Halethorpe sisters, aspiring teachers achieve honors through decades of schooling — together

The Biddinger sisters have a lot to celebrate.

Graduating summa cum laude from University of Maryland, Baltimore County with master’s degrees in early education, 29-year-old Michelle and 25-year-old twins Melanie and Melissa Biddinger have finally completed their academic careers after decades of striving for straight A’s.


The girls always felt at home in school, they say. Their mother, Robin Biddinger, worked as a substitute teacher from the time they entered Halethorpe Elementary School, where their grandmother Bertha McManus served lunch in the cafeteria.

“It was like having a school family,” Melissa said.


It only makes sense that the trio wants to pursue teaching careers together, preferably in the same Baltimore school, they say.

“Teachers really make a difference in the lives of children, especially younger grades,” said Michelle, clad in the same hunter green vest and colorful earrings her sisters were wearing. She pauses when a woman approaches them in the Albin O. Kuhn Library on UMBC’s campus and asks for directions, then asks why they match.

They’ve coordinated outfits for years, Melissa answers, all three laughing. It’s not the first time they’ve been asked.

“We get that reaction a lot,” Melissa said. “At first, [classmates] were surprised by seeing all three of us dressed the same on the first day of class. By the end of it, it was odd for them when we didn’t wear the same clothes.”


The coordination is indicative of their organization and forethought. Michelle plans out outfits for the week on Sunday. Melissa chooses the accessories.

“Melanie is like, ‘What you guys are doing is fine,’” Melissa said.

“’Just put it on the bed,’” Melanie finished.

After high school, the girls chartered their best path forward to early childhood education. Michelle, after receiving an associate of applied science degree in mortuary science, re-enrolled for a second associate degree in teaching with her sisters at the Community College of Baltimore County in Catonsville, where they graduated in 2015.

They chose to pursue Bachelor of Arts degrees in psychology at UMBC to help them discern “what motivates children, understand their development, their situations at home and how that can affect their performance at schools,” Michelle said.

Before graduating with their master’s degrees in December, the girls taught at child care centers and elementary schools in Baltimore County and Baltimore City, required by UMBC’s education program. Melissa and Michelle were assigned the same school during their last internship. They’d arrive and leave together and visit each other’s classes during breaks and lunch, waving to each other from the window.

“It’s just comforting to know that you have someone that you love nearby, even to just say hi,” Michelle said. “That’s why we said how much we would love to [work] in the same school. … It’s just been kind of a dream of ours to be together.”

Melissa and Melanie were the first twins at Lansdowne High School — likely the first in the county — to serve as co-valedictorians in 2012. Then, they spoke of late nights finishing homework, choosing studying over going out with friends.

“They were exceptional students," and “extremely detail-oriented and organized, very diligent and hardworking,” said Kindel Nash, an associate professor of early childhood education at UMBC, who taught the Biddingers in several literacy method courses.

“We believe in whatever you do, make sure you do it with passion, with love, and with hard work,” Melissa said.

The girls credit their ambition to their parents, who they say served as role models for their drive to achieve.

“On graduation day, we said, ‘This graduation was just as much your celebration as ours,'" Melanie said.

“We were with them every step of the way,” said Robin Biddinger, the sisters’ mom, about she and her husband, Charles, who works for the Baltimore City Housing Authority.

The family would huddle around the computer when exam grades were posted, and “you felt like you got the score with them,” Robin Biddinger said.

“We are proud beyond words," but “there were moments that I really felt upset for them," she said. “They had to give up a lot of their social life, they had to make a lot of sacrifices.”

The sisters said they frequently missed out on quality time with their parents, running off to study after their nightly family dinners. The hard work paid off, though; they each completed the graduate program with 4.0 grade point averages, they said.

“Someone’s character is not always [indicated] by their GPA, but it sure did look nice,” Melanie said.

The sisters woke up on graduation day to balloons and a celebratory cake on their dining room table, they said. They squeezed each other’s hands, exchanging smiles before walking across the stage at UMBC’s event center.

“It’s exciting to realize we made it, especially together,” Michelle said.

“Their academic performance was near perfect," Nash said, noting Michelle’s natural leadership skills and Melanie’s and Melissa’s inquisitiveness. “They will all be strong, hard-working teachers.”

The Biddingers plan on applying to schools before the start of the 2020-21 school year; until then, they said they’ll substitute teach.

And afterward? They hope to join their mom, who continues to substitute, as educators in Baltimore County schools.

“We know who to call if we want a day off,” Melanie joked.

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