Graduate speaks with White House officials on education

Theresann Pyrett listens to U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona
Theresann Pyrett, center-left, listens to U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona. Pyrett was invited to Washington D.C. to discuss education issues with White House officials.
Image Credit: Courtesy

The opportunity was too good to pass up for Theresann Pyrett, ’11, ’15. 

What started as an interview for a publication by the Michigan Education Association led Pyrett, a French teacher at Macatawa Bay Middle School in Holland, to a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, speaking to White House officials on her experiences as an educator during COVID-19.

Pyrett’s magazine interview focused on how her district helped the academic and mental health needs of students by utilizing funds from the American Rescue Plan. The plan aided school districts across the country in building support systems for students. 

Not too long after her interview, a liaison with the National Education Association, impressed by her responses, asked her what she thought about the possibility of speaking to legislators. 

Excited by the opportunity, Pyrett had no idea what would come. The liaison contacted her on April 22 and inquired if she would like to speak with Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona in Washington, D.C.

“You don’t turn that opportunity down,” said Pyrett. “To advocate for my students is huge. Everything just snowballed from there.”

Five days later, Pyrett was in Washington D.C. at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, speaking with Cardona; Carmel Martin, advisor to the president; and Gene Sperling, senior advisor to the president and White House American Rescue Plan Coordinator. Also in attendance were the state and national recipients of the Teacher and Administrator of the Year awards.

“It was very surreal but also very grounding,” said Pyrett. “Dr. Cardona made an effort to say we are here to listen and created a very welcoming environment to share the experiences we are having through a pandemic.”

The meeting lasted for two hours when another guest popped in to listen: first lady Dr. Jill Biden. Pyrett said she spent another 30 minutes talking with Biden, who’s a professor at Northern Virginia Community College.

“They understand what educators are up against and support the best learning environment for kids,” said Pyrett. “They respect the work we do and want us to advocate for what we need. It was a very validating experience for an educator who worked through COVID.”

Pyrett said the week was a whirlwind, wrapping up her French classes on April 26, in Washington D.C. on April 27, traveling home the next day and back in the classroom to end the week. 

“It just kind of came to be, and it felt right,” said Pyrett. “If you’re offered a platform to advocate for something you’re passionate about, you do it.”