Peninsula College's Instructor for Prisons Hailed as 'Champion of Change' at White House

By Arwyn Rice

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama recognized Brian Walsh, director of corrections education for Peninsula College, as one of 10 “Champions of Change” in an hour long White House panel and ceremony Thursday.  Brain Walsh / Image courtesy peninsuladailynews.com

“We are here to recognize people who are making extraordinary contributions to their communities,” Obama said.

The award was created through the Connect­Ed Initiative to celebrate educators who are taking creative approaches in using technology to enhance learning for students throughout the nation.

The panel and ceremony was streamed live online on the White House website, and about 50 students and Peninsula College staff gathered in the student center to watch the panel and awards.

The president said that technology and the Internet are the future of education, but first, someone has to try different ways of implementing the tools.

“We're learning from you, seeing what works, what makes an impact,” he said.

Before Obama spoke, Walsh sat on a panel with four other award recipients to discuss the challenges and advantages of introducing technology in the classroom.

The discussion was moderated by Deborah Delisle, assistant secretary for the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Elementary and Secondary Education.

The four other panel members were high school and elementary school teachers, and commented on introducing children to the Internet, but Walsh offered a different perspective.

Prison classrooms are a very different place from the typical schoolroom, Walsh said.

“It's boring to sit in a prison classroom without the Internet,” he said.

“We have a tough group of students. We need something that is more fun, more engaging.”

“And I thought freshmen were challenging,” said fellow panelist Misa Gonzales, an English teacher from Tucson, Ariz.

Walsh founded five vocational programs at the Clallam Bay Corrections Center in Clallam Bay and the Olympic Corrections Center, about 25 miles south of Forks: sustainable horticulture, artisan baking, small business and entrepreneurship, green building and computer programming and game development.

He has led the effort to expand the use of technology in the prison classroom, the White House said in a release, and worked to develop secure ways for faculty within prisons to deliver offenders the same technologically enhanced education courses available to the public.

The most challenging is the introduction of the Internet as a learning tool without compromising prison security and working with the Department of Corrections and educational facilities to shift thinking for both groups of professionals, Walsh said.

Walsh said some of his prison-based students have made major progress toward marketable skills that will allow them to get a good job and support a family once they are released.

“In many cases, they have never used a computer at all, and soon, they are designing three-dimensional objects,” he said.

Back at Peninsula College's student center, students buzzed about Walsh's appearance on stage.

“There he is! There he is!” they exclaimed as Walsh appeared on screen.

Recordings of the event can be watched at www.whitehouse.gov/video.

Walsh and his wife, Autumn Piontek-Walsh, also own and operate Five Acre School, an independent private school near Sequim for preschool-through-eighth-grade students.

He received a bachelor's degree from Ripon College and, while serving as a Rotary Ambassadorial Scholar, a master's degree from the University of Wales in Britain.

To learn more about the ConnectEd Initiative, visit www.whitehouse.gov/champions.

(First published by the Peninsula Daily News and used here by permission)