By ANDREW NELSON, Staff Writer | Published February 6, 2020
ROME—Beth Abbott walked into St. Mary’s School for her first teaching position and remains at the Rome school 28 years later.
The school’s caring, family atmosphere has kept her there. Her three children went through the school, with the youngest to graduate in the spring.
It fell to her eighth-grade daughter to share the news of being the school’s honoree at the archdiocese’s annual banquet for Catholic education. Students gathered for prayer and announcements in the gym as the student body does daily. Abbot noticed her daughter was absent, but presumed she was helping another teacher. Then out comes Audrey with an armful of flowers to share the news. Abbott joked that pandemonium ensued as she received the accolades of the school community.
Abbott moved to the Rome community during high school. She attended nearby Berry College, where her father worked. Her mother was a nurse. She graduated with a degree in early childhood education. She remembered always wanting to be a teacher.
She learned of the job opening through a friend. Abbott attends Garden Lakes Baptist Church and didn’t know St. Mary’s School existed. For the job interview, she talked with then-principal Sister Regina Hlavac, who was a member of the Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul religious community. Up to that time, Abbott said her only familiarity with religious sisters was what she saw in the “Sound of Music.”
After an interview, Abbott began as a teacher. She taught third grade the first year but since then it has been kindergarten.
School leaders reported Abbott is the teacher graduates of St. Mary want to visit when they return to the school. She is remembered for always being willing to try new things to help students learn and feel comfortable in her classroom. This desire to grow as a teacher has resulted in her nomination as a Disney Teacher of the Year.
In her class of 22 students, there are few chairs for youngsters. Students select for themselves whether to sit on the floor at a lowered desk. Others choose to use a standing desk, or a stability ball, while some grab clipboards and do activities while sprawled on the floor.
Abbott said she found a student’s comfort is key to learning. Whatever their needs, Abbott said she tries to accommodate them. The more comfortable the youngsters are with their needs, the more they will absorb and learn, she said.
Some 225 students are enrolled at St. Mary’s from pre-K3 to eighth grade. About half the students are Catholic.
Abbott said while she’s learned Catholic prayers, she believes the goals are to form the students into good people and good Christians. Catholics and Protestants worship the same God and believe in the same Jesus, she said.
She said a highlight is hearing from students long gone. Abbot said she received a note from a former student who broke the news she was expecting a child by saying she hopes Abbot will still be in front of the classroom in five or six years.
For her, success looks like students heading to first grade confident, and even if they are still troubled by reading, on the road to mastery with a love of learning.