Morgan Wallen makes Knoxville music teacher’s day with surprise $20,000 gift

The Adrian Burnett Elementary School music room where Tom Walsh teaches is full of instruments. It’s got drum sets, guitars and keyboards for the students to use to expand their horizons.

Walsh paid for the instruments himself.

And that’s where country music star and East Tennessee native Morgan Wallen comes in. His foundation surprised the teacher Sept. 29 with a $20,000 grant and a first of its kind award.

At a special assembly where the students were already pretty excited because they got a treat of shaved ice, they cheered as loudly as they could when they saw their beloved teacher get a special recognition.

Walsh, truly surprised, hasn’t yet decided how he’ll use the money, but one thing is for sure: He wants to use his classroom to help students with their academic course as well. He hopes to use music to teach math somehow, he said.

He’s also motivated, he said, to help kids learn how to write songs.

“That would be the ultimate goal!” Walsh said.

Wallen wasn’t at the announcement, but he recorded a video for the school and his mother, Lesli, was there to present the check.

“This teacher really goes above and beyond,” Lesli Wallen said.

Adrian Burnett Elementary music teacher wowed by grant from Morgan Wallen Foundation
Adrian Burnett Elementary music teacher Tom Walsh was surprised with a $20,000 grant from Morgan Wallen Foundation during a school assembly on Friday, Sept. 29.

Lesli Wallen and Walsh worked together at the school before she retired this year, and they would often collaborate, she said.

“He would always ask us other teachers, ‘How can I help? What can I take off your hands?'” she said.

“It’s just a gift for these kids,” she said, “to be able to come in here and do this.”

For many, that means starting with drums. They love percussion instruments, Walsh joked, “because most kids want to beat on things.”

Music also helps with classroom management, he said, “because usually, even the young kids they want to play so they’ll do what you’re asking them to do.”

The foundation said the award is a recognition of Walsh’s impact in Knoxville as he “continues to inspire and advocate for music education,” the foundation said in a press release.

Walsh has been a Knox County teacher since 2016, starting his career at Emerald Academy and then moving to Adrian Burnett in 2019. Before coming to the district, he taught music for nearly two decades, he said.

Adrian Burnett Elementary school assistant principal Angie Cox and music teacher Tom Walsh talk during the surprise presentation of a $20,000 gift from Morgan Wallen. / Credit: Angelina Alcantar, Angelina Alcantar/News Sentinel
Kathleen Flaherty (from left), executive director of the Morgan Wallen Foundation; Tom Walsh, music teacher at Adrian Burnett Elementary School; and Lesli Wallen (right), program director of the Morgan Wallen Foundation, surprise Walsh with a gift. / Credit: Angelina Alcantar, Angelina Alcantar/News Sentinel