When Pamela Brown, a longtime Charlottesville teacher, sees a need in her school or community, she steps up.
“Now, how many people would have their classroom duties, their cheerleading coaching duties and be our substitute school nurse until we could find one?” said Leah Puryear, a longtime Charlottesville School Board and friend of Brown.
Filling in as the school nurse for several months at the Charlottesville High School is just one of many ways that Brown helps out. In addition to teaching special education, she coaches the cheer team, does Behind the Wheel and serves as junior class sponsor. She also helped organize a COVID-friendly homecoming and prom.
“A lot of them I fell into,” Brown said of the different roles“… If I see a need and I can help, I’m not going to say no.”
As a school nurse, Brown said she did mostly everything a school nurse does such as running the school’s COVID clinic along with a retired teacher who came back to help. She had training through the school’s medical management team and would assist with medications on field trips.
If students needed her earlier in the school year, they knew to head to the nurse’s office.
Brown, who attended Albemarle County schools, started teaching in 1998 after working at State Farm and running Subway Sandwich shops with her husband. She has been at CHS since 2000. A friend at church told she wasn’t using her education background. She had studied speech pathology at Ohio University.
“I got bitten by the teaching bug, and that was it,” she said. “I like to say, it’s a calling; not just a career. Being around the students and the special education kids specifically, I just found my place, found my people.”
Brown was recognized nationally for her contributions, particularly those during the pandemic, by Ford Motor Company as one of the Ford Freedom Unsung Teacher Heroes of COVID-19. Twenty-five educators received the award, which came with $1,000 and resources for their classrooms.
Brown initially thought the award was a scam when she heard about it.
“I was shocked,” she said. “It was very humbling, because I do stuff but I just do it and don’t think about it. I’m behind the scenes a lot doing stuff, and I don’t really care if people know that I’m doing it or not.”
But Brown said she’s driven to make the community a better place.
“Charlottesville’s not always an easy place to live; it’s expensive,” she said. “You just try to do what you can to make it better for the next person coming behind you. Because somebody had to do it for me, so I need to do it for somebody else.”
When schools shut down in March 2020, Brown helped pack lunches for students and make sure her students and their families had what they needed, relaying needs and issues back to school administrators.
“With the students she serves, she was on the frontlines,” Irizarry said.
In general, Irizarry said that Brown is good about bringing things that happen in the school or community to his attention.
“When Pam comes to you for something, it needs to be addressed,” he said.
Overall, Irizarry said Brown’s a role model as a teacher and community member.
“She always advocates for her students who don’t always have a voice,” he said. “She becomes that voice for her students as well.”
“I think she’s in the building as much as I am,” he said. “She’s just one of those people. CHS is her family and she’s a big part of that family.”
Outside of her work at CHS, Brown and her daughters also made masks to give out in the community.
“Here we are during COVID, most people are trying to figure it out, rest, read a book or catch up on some much needed sleep,” Puryear said. “But not Pam and her girls.”
Puryear received one of their masks and still uses it.
Puryear, who recently wrapped up a 15-year tenure on the Charlottesville School Board, has known Brown and her family since she moved to Charlottesville decades ago. They are both part of the Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority. In fact, Brown is currently the president — or basileus — of the local chapter.
Taking on the leadership role wasn’t part of Brown’s plan, Puryear said.
“When she realized that there was a need to be filled, she stepped up,” she said.
Puryear said that she’s proud to call Brown a friend.
“She is just simply amazing,” Puryear said. “Before she had children, she’s always interested in children and cared about young people, and that’s been her focus. As a mom, wife, cheerleading coach, instructor, she’s been amazing.”
To her students and the ladies on the cheer squad, Puryear said Brown is patient and encouraging.
“But don’t think because she’s sweet and kind that she cannot hold your feet to the fire,” Puryear said. “She encourages people, but she also expects people to do what they’re supposed to do. You’re not going to pull the wool over her eyes.”
To Puryear, Brown represents what the Charlottesville school division is.
“If there’s a need and I can feel it, I’m going to step up, and she does it with dignity and grace,” Puryear said.