“Helping kids was always my priority,” he said. “But I didn’t really have any idea what being a school counselor meant.”
Edwards’ path to school counseling started two decades earlier, after a friend of his suffered a psychotic break.
“I felt like it was my responsibility to help him,” Edwards said. “But I didn’t know how.”
That experience prompted him to go back to school where he obtained a master’s degree in psychology.
In 1990, Edwards met Terry Galen. Although she was living in Moab, and Edwards was living in Boulder, Colorado, the two fell in love and married a year later. They eventually relocated to Price, where both of them worked for Four Corners Community Behavioral Health. They hadn’t been living in Price very long before Edwards heard that the Grand County School District was looking to hire a school counselor.
The idea of having summers off appealed to Edwards, so he applied for the job and was hired. Because the schools hadn’t previously employed counselors, Edwards said, they didn’t really know what the job entailed.
“It was kind of like the blind leading the blind,” he said.
After he started working at the school district, Edwards went back to school to work toward his school counselor certification. But, he said, those first few years he was on his own.
“I didn’t really know what a school counselor was supposed to do, so I made it up,” he said.
One of the things that he “made up” remains one of the achievements he’s most proud of. Edwards said he began running peer groups at the Grand County Middle School. Those groups were aimed at giving students a safe place where they could learn and talk about sensitive issues.
“I began to realize that what I really needed to be doing was helping students with issues that were age appropriate,” he said. “One of the things I never could do was lie to kids. My job was to be someone they could talk to. Someone who could be ... on their level.”
Edwards said that sometimes meant being very direct with kids, but he also tried to break down some of the social constructs that he felt were harmful.
“As guys, we’re raised to not have feelings. To pretend we don’t have them,” he said. “We’re raised to be hard. To be tough ... But boys have just as many feelings as girls do.”
In his group sessions, Edwards made a deliberate effort to let the kids see his emotions so that they learned that it was okay to share theirs as well.
“It took me a long time to learn to show my emotions,” he said.
Prior to going back to school for his master’s degree, Edwards had worked as a meditation instructor, and he never lost his love for it. Eventually, he decided to give meditation a try with one of his middle school groups.
“In my experience, it helps people to relax and be more focused,” he said.
Students participating in the group were given a simple questionnaire before meditation that asked them to rate certain mental and emotional stress levels. They were then asked to repeat the questionnaire after a simple meditation session.
“The results were so incredible in every way,” Edwards said.
In fact, the results were so interesting that Edwards’s efforts were showcased in the Utah Special Educator Magazine.
“I wasn’t trying to gain notoriety,” he said. “I was just trying to help the kids, and meditation was something I’d done for a long time.”
After 17 years at Grand County Middle School, Edwards moved to Grand County High School and served as the counselor there. Last year, after four years at GCHS, he retired. That decision has given him time to enjoy some of the simpler things in life, including gardening, meditation, cooking, swimming, writing poetry and playing the guitar, Edwards said.
“Those are the things I want to be famous for,” he said with a smile.
However, even though he’s retired, the students he has impacted haven’t forgotten him.
“Every time that I meet someone in their late 20s or mid 30s from here, they say, ‘Oh, I love Mr. Edwards,’” Galen said. “I think he made a deep impact on the lives of many kids.”
“It’s how you treat people that they’ll really remember,” Edwards said. “I treated the students like they were somebody. I treated them like they were equals ... I just think, in order to be a counselor you have to really love people.”