VHS teacher honored for relating to students

Harris Levinson has taught at Vashon High School for 13 years. - Natalie Johnson/Staff Photo
Harris Levinson has taught at Vashon High School for 13 years.
— image credit: Natalie Johnson/Staff Photo

Vashon School District teachers and employees opened the school year on Monday by recognizing one of their own. Harris Levinson, an American studies, Spanish and drama teacher at Vashon High School, was presented with the Doors of Opportunity award during the teachers’ opening day ceremonies at the high school.

Charlie Staadecker, a former school board member who spearheaded the campaign to fund the award in 1998, was there to present Levinson with the award — which is given each year to a teacher or administrator who opens doors for Vashon students.

“This year in particular, Harris Levinson exemplifies what this award is all about,” Staadecker said.

At the ceremony, colleagues and students past and present took turns speaking about how Levinson, or “Levi” as they knew him, touched their lives.

Matha Woodard, who partners with Levinson for the American studies program, said she constantly hears laughter coming from Levinson’s classroom, which she described as a “quirky, creative, student-centered environment.” As a colleague, she added, she is personally inspired by his passion for teaching.

Woodard also praised Levinson for heading up the high school’s chapter of Amnesty International and for bringing sometimes powerful guest speakers to his classroom, such as survivors of the Holocaust or Japanese-Americans interned at camps during World War II.

“He’s the kind of guy who goes beyond the classroom,” she said. “He also brings the world into the classroom.”

Students at Monday’s ceremony also spoke, describing a teacher who cares about his students, treats them with respect and always finds a way to make learning fun.

Sammy Fall, a junior at VHS this year, showed a video she put together of even more of Levinson’s students describing both the teacher and their favorite moments in his classes.

“I feel like Levi gets his student on a level most people don’t,” Fall said. “I push myself to do well in his class.”

When it was Levinson’s turn to speak, his words were grateful and humble, thanking the students and colleagues whom he said have inspired him and allowed him to be himself during his 13 years at VHS.

“I look out and I see the faces of so many people who deserve this tribute,” he said.

Levinson was nominated for the award last spring and was chosen by a selection committee that reviewed letters from students, teachers and parents about who deserved the award.

At the ceremony, he received a check for $1,000 to use as he pleases and was told he will be allowed another $1,000 to spend on something to benefit his classroom, the school or the school district.

Though he hasn’t worked out the details, Levinson said he hopes to use the money to fund a project in which Vashon students will collaborate with students in another country on an artistic piece. He plans to put his personal reward toward travel.

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