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2023-24 Above & Beyond Awards recipient: Penny Walsh

Penny Walsh“Penny greets every staff member and family with a welcoming smile! She makes a point to know their names, interact with them, and get to know each family.” - Meagan Loken, Anoka-Hennepin staff member.

Penny Walsh, an Early Childhood Family Education (ECFE) parent educator at Riverview Early Childhood Center, excels at building relationships with families and offering support to parents and children.

“Penny provides the first learning environment for many of our district families and creates a lasting positive impression on all families,” said Loken, an Anoka-Hennepin early childhood teacher.

The model in ECFE is for parents/caregivers and their children to attend together giving them time to interact in the classroom, and then they separate halfway through the session to focus on parent education. “My students are the parents and caregivers,” said Walsh. “I get them for less than an hour each week to teach lessons that meet their needs.” For those lessons to matter, to be relevant and to make sense, explains Walsh, she needs to create a relationship with those adults.

Walsh has worked in ECFE with Anoka-Hennepin School for 11 years, first as an early childhood teacher and then as a parent educator. She describes her team as amazing and says they strive to meet families where they’re at. “We ask questions, listen as they share, learn about where they are coming from and what they are looking for.”

Walsh uses specific praise with families so they can see the growth they’ve had as parents and continue to build confidence in their parenting. “She gives ideas in a non-judgemental manner so that parents feel safe, heard, and welcome to share and have ownership in their parenting styles,” Loken said. “This allows parents to reflect on their parenting and expand their skills as best they can.” 

Loken says Walsh builds a trusting environment for all through her welcoming interactions.

“Supporting parents and caregivers in their role as their child's first teacher brings me joy every day,” Walsh said.

The 2024 Above & Beyond Awards ceremony to honor Walsh and 14 other exceptional employees will take place April 3 at the Educational Service Center (ESC).