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Meet new Sonoma Valley teacher Thomas Edwards

While reasons for becoming a teacher often vary, for Adele Harrison Middle School teacher Thomas Edwards, it was as simple as having the same schedule as his daughters.

“I had two daughters in elementary school and I had a busy career as an engineer,” Edwards said. “I became responsible for them and as a single parent, switching to teaching was a perfect way to match schedules. My first year, I taught at their elementary school.”

Edwards studied engineering at the Maritime Academy in Vallejo, and worked for General Electric before switching gears, and deciding to get a teaching credential from Saint Mary’s College.

It turned out that Edwards loved teaching and he has quickly become well-known at Adele and in the community. After his youngest daughter headed off to college last year, Edwards remarried and moved to Sonoma from the East Bay.

“Teaching was a natural thing for me to go into,” Edwards said. “I started off with a multiple-subject credential to teach elementary. But once I started teaching, and people realized I was an engineer, they channeled me first into math, then science, then biology. It’s been this evolution.”

Edwards taught at eight schools before landing at Adele, and he has been asked to teach engineering and science at Sonoma Valley High School next year.

“High school and middle school are both fun and I’ve taught at those levels before so it’ll be interesting for me,” Edwards said. “Especially since it’s taking me back to a discipline that was my initial career.”

What makes Edwards stand out the most, though, is not his newness, but the impact he has made in his short time. Since arriving in Sonoma, he has started a citizenship class at Adele, launched a recycling program, been added to the school district’s equity and inclusion task force and joined the Earth Care Committee at his church in town.

“It was a surprise to me that [Adele] didn’t have any recycling program,” he said. “I was able to make community contacts and get outside recycling cans for each of the classrooms donated.”

When he made his class aware of the problem with single-use plastic, they calculated the campus uses almost 230 bottles a day. To make the school aware of this number, they gathered bottles and sculpted a giant a 6-foot display of bottles.

“It’s just that visual impact, when someone sees it, they realize that’s how many bottles every day is going into the garbage,” he said. “It’s the beginning of trying to inform people of what’s going on.”

Edwards has also gotten his class involved with the Ocean Plastic Pollution Summit at the Monterey Bay Aquarium and is looking forward to taking six students there at the end of April to present information about their project at Adele. Afterward the kids will get to spend the night in the aquarium, as a reward for all their work.

He is also very proud of the curriculum he has created and taught in his citizenship class.

“We’re teaching things that some adults take for granted like integrity, friendship, cooperation, common sense, respect,” Edwards said. “We can’t assume the students just know about these anymore. A lot of the traditional instruction, where it was church or what they might receive at home, doesn’t necessarily teach them what they need to be a good student and citizen now.”

He is also excited for his class’s plans to work in conjunction with an Ethiopian school to plant 200 saplings in “water boxes” around town that can gather moisture from the atmosphere, needing no additional water to grow. It is scheduled to launch on Earth Day and students at Adele will work in parallel with the Ethiopian students.

“There is a science aspect where they’re going to be monitoring how trees grow, but there is a social aspect that they can plant trees and help the community,” Edwards said. “Even bigger socially is the connection with the kids in Ethiopia, but those kids will be doing it so they can provide food for their families. It’ll have this common connection relative to the trees – but it will also be a chance for our students to learn about the lives and the situations of students on the other side of the world.”

Edwards says his philosophy centers around teaching in a way that helps everyone understand. He says he feels lucky to have Principal Mary Anne Spitzer trust a new teacher with so many projects.

“The extra programs are my way of investing myself in the place I’m working,” he said. “School is a community. So when I come here, I want to make things better for my community.

“For the students and beyond – everyone around.”