From law and order on the streets to the classroom: Waynesboro’s Brian Edwards
By Rebecca J. Barnabi
For Augusta Free Press
WAYNESBORO — Two years ago, Sgt. Brian Edwards traded in a career enforcing the law on the streets of Waynesboro so that he could become a teacher and prevent youth from becoming lawbreakers. Edwards was a police officer with Waynesboro Police Department for 26 years until retiring to pursue teaching at Valley Academy in 2019. Several members of Edwards’ family have been or are teachers.
“Police work was in my bones, but teaching was in my blood,” Edwards said.
Police work interested Edwards, he said, for the opportunity to be a community servant. He said that perhaps he was naïve at the start of his career, particularly about the prevalence of domestic violence and drug issues.
Edwards soon learned that victims of domestic violence were not always willing to leave the difficult situation in which they lived.
He realized he could help more by reaching out to local youth, so in 1996 he began serving in Waynesboro Schools as a DARE officer, and did so until 2012.
“The best is the relationships I forged back in the 90s I still have with these kids,” Edwards said of working with Waynesboro youth as a police officer.
As a DARE officer, Edwards said he worked to encourage students to avoid drugs, educated them about the dangers of drugs, and cautioned them about the decisions they made in response to peer pressure.
“It definitely was a mechanism to get into the school system, and interact with students,” Edwards said.
Edwards would talk with students about marijuana, cocaine, heroine and prescription drugs.
“This was kind of before meth and opioids got its grip on the Valley,” Edwards said.
He was a member of the Waynesboro School Board from 2004 to 2012, and enjoyed his time on the board.
Edwards met teachers, principals and families throughout the River City.
Leaving Waynesboro was never a thought for Edwards, who grew up in Fairfax County.
“I spent my entire [police] career with Waynesboro. I didn’t feel any inkling to pick up a badge somewhere else,” he said.
Edwards graduated from Bridgewater College in 1991.
“And just really had no inclination to go back [to northern Virginia],” he said.
What he wanted was to pursue a career in law enforcement in the Valley.
“Waynesboro was such an inviting community,” Edwards said.
Two days after retiring from Waynesboro Police Department in July 2019, Edwards stepped into a classroom at Valley Academy as a mathematics teacher.
“I guess I felt myself that I was getting stale in my role as a police officer,” Edwards said of his decision to leave law enforcement.
He had been on the law enforcement side of law for so long, Edwards “wanted to try working with people before they made the decision to go into crime.”
“There is a direct link between literacy and crime,” Edwards said. He wanted an opportunity to work with youth struggling in school to help prevent them from making mistakes that would put them on the wrong side of the law.
As a police officer, Edwards had worked with many youth who had not finished high school. He said he saw how that hurt them professionally, mentally and emotionally, and lead them to make bad decisions in their lives.
Originally, Edwards’ plan was to teach elementary school students, or special education.
But Waynesboro Schools Executive Director of Student Services Dr. Ryan Barber recommended Valley Academy was the place for Edwards.
The school serves students from Waynesboro and Augusta County who require an alternate learning environment from their home high school. However, students are encouraged to graduate and, when they do, they graduate with a degree from their home high school.
“Although I was really unsure at the time, I feel like a finger in a glove now,” Edwards said of choosing to teach mathematics at Valley Academy.
He added that the teachers at Valley Academy complement each other as an education team.
“I can’t imagine doing anything else right now,” Edwards said of teaching.
Edwards teaches middle and high school level mathematics. He enjoys taking math problems to students, and giving them the strategies and skills to work through them.
He said he works to get each student to the Waynesboro or Augusta County math requirements for graduation, then encourages them to go beyond the requirements in their math education.
When he began his career as a teacher in July 2019, Edwards and the Waynesboro community had no idea the challenges ahead in the 2019-2020 academic year.
Edwards said that when schools closed in Virginia during the pandemic lockdown in March 2020, he had no idea he would not see his first year of students again.
In fall 2020, “it was going to be difficult to work them back into a routine.”
But, 95 percent of Valley Academy’s students returned to some form of in-person learning, and remained on the path they needed to be on toward high school graduation.
Edwards said that students wanted “that social experience” which only public education provides.
“This past year, I was particularly proud of them,” he said of the 2020-2021 academic year.
Police work prepared Edwards to expect the unexpected every day, but a global pandemic was a new experience for everyone.
Edwards said he saw resilience in the students, and dedication in the teachers around him.
“I really think this was a great school year for all of the kids in the area,” Edwards said.
He said he does not regret his law enforcement career.
“I think you can have more than one calling in your life, and I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else,” he said.