Fifth grade social studies teacher Matthew Davis’ proverbial shell was punctured by hanging out with friends at the YMCA in his home state of Kentucky.
“The YMCA was a big influence in my life,” he said. “They encouraged you to be yourself.”
It was his connections to the YMCA that led him to teaching. He initially wanted to be a structural engineer and design roller coasters, but as he worked more and more at YMCA youth camps, his interests started to change.
“It was there that I started to think about how to make it a career,” Matthew said.
Through the YMCA, he took a service trip through the Deep South, where he fed the homeless under a bridge in Birmingham, Ala.; lived out of a duffel bag and slept on floors at other YMCA buildings; traveled across the Edmund Pettis Bridge in Selma, Ala.; and traveled the underground railroad in North and South Carolina.
“It changed my life,” he said. “It was the best experience I ever had. It opened my eyes to a whole new world. I went to a predominantly white Catholic School, so our depth of diversity was really low. It opened my eyes in ways I had never previously experienced.”
Matthew earned his bachelor’s degree in elementary education from the University of Kentucky. After completing his undergraduate work, he taught first grade in the Fayette County School District. “It was difficult because I had 23 students and a part-time assistant. It made me appreciate those who work with younger students,” Matthew said.
He met his wife, Madison, through the YMCA, and they eventually moved to Kansas City. Moving away from Kentucky was a big decision. “All of my family is pretty much rooted in the community, but I knew I wanted to explore what it was like to live somewhere else,” he said.
He explored opportunities in public schools in the metropolitan area, but ultimately found private schools and Pembroke Hill. He interviewed with third grade teacher Darla Burns for her faculty assistant position.
“She told me to write down some questions and when I came in, she said, ‘What do you have for me?’” He started the day before Meet the Teacher Day in 2011. He continued, “Darla found out I played guitar and asked if I would play something. I had only played for friends and was a little shy, but she made me feel comfortable.”
After two years, he moved to fifth grade; he taught language arts for one year and has been the social studies teacher for the last three years.
“I like how you can start to have higher level of conversations with students, and I can tell jokes that are starting to be funny to them," he chuckled. “You start to build relationships with them.”
Matthew said his philosophies blend in well at Pembroke Hill. “Pembroke Hill showed me it is possible to teach to the whole child, their social and mental well-being, and not just to the academics,” he said.