By Joseph Fratena
Walt Disney Elementary School Music Teacher Robi Davidson got a surprise visit from Penn-Harris-Madison Superintendent Dr. Jerry Thacker Monday morning (April 24, 2023). Dr. Thacker, with the help of Walt Disney Principal Ryan Towner, a handful of P-H-M district administrators, and news crews, surprised Davidson letting him know that he was P-H-M’s 2023 Elementary Teacher of the Year! Click to see the photo gallery below.
Davidson has worked for P-H-M for 11 years, but has been at P-H-M nearly all of his life! Davidson attended P-H-M’s Madison Elementary School, Grissom Middle School and graduated from Penn High School in 2007. He has taught music at Walt Disney Elementary for 11 of his 12 years of teaching. This is not the first time Davidson has been surprised with an award; in 2019, the P-H-M Education Foundation popped into one of his classes to present him with a $2,000 grant check for winning the “Jeneane Arter Teaching in Excellence Award."
“Every year when I tour all P-H-M schools the first few days of school,” said Dr. Thacker, “I try to make sure to go into Robi’s classroom when visiting Walt Disney. Robi is P-H-M Excellence in action! It is remarkable watching the creative and energetic ways he engages his students. Robi Davidson is a perfect example of the many passionate and dedicated teachers P-H-M is blessed to have.”
If Davison is not leading students in the school Ukulele group, running a Walt Disney News Network broadcast, or DJing a school dance or school wide assembly, he is chairing Walt Disney’s signature event. Davidson became the head organizer of “Culture Night” in 2014 and works with the PTO and other Disney staff to pull off this incredible evening. Culture Night is more than an event, it is a celebration! Davidson describes it as the “true heartbeat” of Walt Disney!
“There is no one more than Robi Davidson who embraces Walt Disney’s diversity and vitality,” said Walt Disney Principal Ryan Towner. “Our Culture Night has grown and expanded under Robi’s guidance offering new experiences to our students and families helping draw together as one community.”
With more than 30 different languages spoken in the homes of Disney families, the school started “Culture Night” in 1999 so that families of all backgrounds could share their cultures with the entire school community. The month-long celebration is now incorporated into all aspects of the school day including global lunch menu options and gym and music units that explore various music and games played by children around the world. Davidson, a former Kingsmen Marching Band member, has also gotten Penn’s Fine Arts Academy students involved with band, choir, orchestra, and dance performances. Various community groups also come in and participate. This year’s event will be held Thursday, May 18.
Davidson doesn’t lend his musical teaching talents to just his Disney students, he also coaches the tuba section for Penn’s award-winning Marching Band and also works on the sound design team with the front ensemble. Davidson teaches private tuba lessons to middle and high school students.
He loves helping fifth graders transition to their middle school experience by working on the “Instrument Selection Nights,” where students get to try out and choose an instrument to pursue in middle school music class.
“It is always a treat to see my elementary students and their families,” said Davidson “and it is always very special when I get to re-meet many of my elementary students again as high schoolers when they begin their marching band careers. Seeing their growth and the new versions of individuals they become, and to be able to be a part of their educational process during both those points in their lives is really special.”
During the week of April 24, Dr. Thacker will also surprise the winners of the Secondary Teacher of the Year and Classified Employee of the Year. All winners will be officially recognized at P-H-M’s Employee Recognition & Retiree Dinner on Wednesday, May 17th. Along with a plaque, the two Teachers of the Year will also receive a grant from the P-H-M Education Foundation to use in their classroom. Both TOY winners will go on to compete for Indiana’s Teacher of the Year, which will be announced in early Fall 2024 by the IDOE. Click here for more information.