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Walenta Honored with Star Furniture Red Apple Award
Channel 11 reporter presents award to Robert e. Lee History Teacher.
 Photo by Carrie Pryor-Newman

Cristina Kooker (left), reporter with KHOU Channel 11, helps present the Star Furniture Red Apple Award to Dr. Brian Walenta, U.S. History teacher at Robert E. Lee High School as a result of his nomination by his wife Deborah Walenta (right) and REL librarian Connie Knotts.

Walenta Honored with Star Furniture Red Apple Award

By: Susan Passmore

It was an extraordinary day for Dr. Brian Walenta – not one he’s likely to ever forget! The U.S. History teacher at Robert E. Lee High School started out the day – May 18th - with a surprise visit from KHOU Channel 11’s reporter Cristina Kooker and Robert Taylor from Star Furniture to present the Star Furniture Red Apple Award to him.

Dr. Joseph Farnsworth, principal, walked Walenta out of the building to a cheering group of students, including the Interact Club he sponsors, cheerleaders, Celebrities dance team members, the drum line and his family, including wife Deborah and daughters Rebekah and Sarah. Daughter Rylie missed out on the excitement due to her work schedule. Deborah Walenta and Connie Knotts, REL librarian, nominated Walenta for the award.

“I’ve been married to the guy for 27 years. He was a teacher when I met him, and he’s just an amazing man,” said Deborah Walenta. “He gives of himself – he’ll give you the shirt off his back if you ask for it – and the kids love him. He’s an amazing teacher, and I felt that he deserved the honor.”

Deborah Walenta’s nomination included that her husband, a teacher for 30 years, is called “school dad” by many students and that he has a reputation for being fair and honest. He even calls parents with positive news about their children.

“I really enjoy my students and they can always come and talk to me. And, yes, I have a number of students that call me Dad. The only problem is I can’t claim them on my income tax,” Walenta said.

Leading the Interact Club, which is sponsored by the Rotary Club of Baytown, Walenta promotes community service with such projects as Trick-or-Treat for Hunger canned good collection, Clean Water Projects, Pet Food Drive and Adoption for the Baytown Animal Shelter, Community Thanksgiving Dinner and even painting and cleaning houses. The group contributes more than 2,000 community service hours each year. He has even been known to have his head shaved as an incentive for students to donate to Relay for Life.

Spirit Days provide an opportunity for this teacher, who has been an icon on the REL campus for the past 15 years, to unleash his creativity, wearing crazy clothes and hats. He also helped REL receive the Apple Distinguished School designation for 2015-17 for making technology a major part of classroom learning.

“He is Mr. Gander, not only what he does in the classroom, but out of the classroom and for all of Baytown, he is a true positive force for humanity and for our school community. We love him!” said Farnsworth.

The 2016-17 school year has been Knotts’ first year on the REL campus, but she has already seen that Walenta is a positive force in his school and the community, which prompted her to nominate him for the award.

“Well, first, he taught me how to be a Gander. He was one of the very first people I met on the campus, but his commitment to community service - starting with his military service in the U.S. military, which is a great honor, and I appreciate his service - he constantly instills the importance of community service, and the kids understand the intrinsic rewards of giving back,” said Knotts.

Walenta is proud of his years of service as an officer in the Texas State Guard, and his patriotism rubs off on his students. The awards he has received over his years in education are numerous. He was named the Outstanding American History Teacher of the Year for 2012-13 by the Texas Council of Daughters of Colonial Wars, and was the third- place winner of the Outstanding American History Teacher of Texas from the Daughters of the American Revolution in 2016. Also in 2016, Walenta received the National Citizenship Education Teacher Award from the Veterans of Foreign Wars. He represented his campus as Teacher of the Year in 2011-12 and was the campus nominee this year.

Ironically, the Teacher of the Year celebration for the district was held the same day that KHOU Channel 11 surprised Walenta on campus, but the television crew and the principal were sworn to secrecy. Later that evening, Walenta ended his extraordinary day by being named Goose Creek CISD’s District Secondary Teacher of the Year, an honor that clearly was emotional for him.

“Thursday was a whirlwind of events for me – the KHOU Red Apple Award in the morning – Campus Teacher of the Year and Secondary Teacher of the Year that evening,” said Walenta. “I was most happy to have my family with me and, especially, to have my mother there for the presentation. I was emotional, for I am really thankful to the GCCISD for the Opportunity to be in a great, caring district.”


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