Pharis, others, honored for work with schools

Stewart Pharis received Reaching Heights' Friend of Public Education Award in December.

The Reaching Heights Friend of Public Education for 2022 is Stewart Pharis, a generous volunteer and dedicated supporter of the Cleveland Heights-University Heights public schools. Also receiving Reaching Heights awards for 2022 were the Greater Cleveland Food Bank (GCFB) and four school district employees—Caryl Yoo, Edie Fiala, Wendy Burkey and Heather Higham.

“Over the past 20 years," said Pharis, "I have had the privilege of being able to work with so many terrific children, and to form relationships with the dedicated and caring adults, both teachers and volunteers, who work so hard to educate them.”

As a PTA member at Fairfax, his children’s elementary school, Pharis stepped up to serve as treasurer and co-president, and served again as secretary and treasurer of Roxboro Middle School PTA. He accepted the role as the first volunteer coordinator for the then new Many Villages Tutoring Program, and tutored at every grade level for nine years. He also assisted Joan Levin, art teacher, in creating and teaching a program that introduced fourth-graders to stained glass and the work of Frank Lloyd Wright and other Prairie School artists. 

Volunteering as assistant coach for the Roxboro Middle School and Heights High Science Olympiad teams for nine years was another intensive experience for Pharis. Students he coached won medals in a wide variety of events, at invitational and regional Science Olympiad tournaments. Particularly notable was the 2015 first-place medal won by his Heights High students in the Experimental Design event at the highly competitive CWRU Regional Tournament.

Pharis has logged most of his volunteer hours, and found the most joy, assisting middle- and high-school instrumental music teachers for the past 15 years. An accomplished violist and violinist, Pharis received his bachelor's and master's degrees in music from Northwestern University. He was active as a freelance musician in the Chicago area, and was a member of the New World Symphony for two seasons. 

He has arranged music pieces for middle- and high-school performances, assisted with instruction, coached chamber groups, maintained the high school's instrumental music library, and played in the Pit Orchestra as a community performer in many high school musicals. He is also a much-valued volunteer on the leadership team of the Reaching Heights Summer Music Camp, where he is a violin section and chamber music coach, music theory teacher, and music arranger.

The GCFB received Reaching Heights' Outstanding Community Partner award for 2022. The need for nutritious food is high among Heights students, their families, and the community. This award, accepted by Amanda Papp, the food bank's manager of programs, recognizes the professionalism of GCFB's client services team in coordinating food deliveries for the School Markets and the Backpack Program.

Also honored were school social workers Yoo, Fiala and Burkey, and school counselor Heather Higham, who coordinate the School Market events each month, to distribute food. This requires recruiting volunteers each month to help with the physical tasks of sorting and bagging bulk food, moving boxes of food into people’s cars—with a smile, in all kinds of weather—and working with area agencies to redistribute any leftover food. They advertise to the community that this food is not just for kids, but for everyone. Many regular customers of the School Markets are elderly residents who are also guardians of young students.

“The public school is the center of a community, and this is one more way we meet the needs of our community,” explained Yoo. “We all rely on each other.”

Krista Hawthorne

Krista Hawthorne is the executive director of Reaching Heights.

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Volume 16, Issue 1, Posted 10:14 AM, 12.29.2022