White House Consults Alumna
Teachers change the world, one student at a time. But an educator’s
influence can go considerably beyond the classroom. McKay alumna Wendy
Uptain’s recent invitation to the White House shows that individual
teachers can also influence education policy, even at a national level.
In March, Uptain attended a round-table discussion at the White House with 12 other honored educators who had been invited to recommend federal education policy improvements to officials from the US Department of Education (ED).
Uptain stressed the value of early childhood education to Peter
Cunningham, a policymaker from the ED, and Roberto Rodriguez, Education
Advisor to the President. She also encouraged the federal government to
support the Early Learning Challenge Fund,
which assists states that develop excellent early childhood programs.
Since Uptain’s visit to the White House, the Fund has been realized.
That the White House solicits educators’ opinions and has acted on them
confirms for Uptain that when educators get involved, policymakers
“really care about what teachers have to say.”
Uptain, who graduated in 2005 with a bachelor’s in early childhood
education, taught for four years before pursuing graduate work in
education policy at George Washington University. As a new teacher,
Uptain found herself delving into the policies and procedures she and
her colleagues had to comply with—many of which made little sense. She
wanted to be part of the solution. “We need more teachers serving in
Accordingly, Uptain works tirelessly to engage teachers in policy conversations. As a graduate student, she facilitated the Teacher Ambassador Fellowship Program
at the US Department of Education. The program bridges the
communication gap between legislators and classroom teachers. Uptain
then started a similar program at the nonprofit Hope Street Group. She
and the teachers she fellowships advocate for effective teacher
Although Uptain has pursued her passion for education policy, her
roots will always be in the classroom. “Being part of the McKay School
got me started in the classroom. That is and always will be my
foundation. All of my decisions and recommendations for policy come from
my classroom experience and understanding of what is best for
children,” she says.
Uptain knows how critical it is for future educators to focus on
their students and their classrooms. But she encourages college students
to “be aware of the broader conversations” in the policy world.
Curiosity about education policy can only lead to better teaching.
Sometimes it even leads to the White House.