‘Abbott Elementary’ Teaches Reading, Writing and Roll Camera

Willis Kwakye has attended the same school since 2021. He’s 13 now, an eighth grader, a veteran, someone who knows his way around the classrooms and the cafeteria. And sometimes, when he’s in his uniform with a math worksheet in front of him, “I can even think it’s real school for a little bit,” he said.

His classmate Arianna White, also 13, knew just what he meant. “It feels a lot like school, except we’re just filming and there’s a lot of cuts,” she said.

Kwakye and White were speaking, via video call, from a classroom on the set of “Abbott Elementary.” (They were in one of the real classrooms, where child actors complete their mandated three hours of instruction per work day.) The Emmy-winning ABC sitcom mockumentary has recently matriculated for a third season and already been renewed for a fourth. Set in a fictional K-8 school in Philadelphia — though actually filmed in Los Angeles — it requires the presence of about 150 school-age children each season.

In any given episode, those kids can be seen raising their hands in class, scurrying past each other in the hallways, giggling at their teachers’ antics. But “Abbott Elementary” diverges from most scripted series involving children in two significant ways: The show uses its child actors sparingly, giving them a handful of lines per episode and only requiring their presence one or two days each week. And for the most part, it lets them be kids.

“Having kids just be themselves actually looks really good in our world,” Quinta Brunson, the series creator and star, said in a recent phone interview.

Willis Kwakye, center, in an episode of “Abbott Elementary.” Tyler James Williams, a star of the show, said, “Part of being a child actor comes with a certain amount of trauma,” and “Abbott” aims to avoid that.Credit…Gilles Mingasson/ABC

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