‘My students were struggling’: Teacher creates Virtual School Assembly to inspire kids during pandemic

Tyler Christensen, a fifth grade teacher at George Washington Academy, speaks on stage to a group of students, Pleasant Grove, Utah, circa March 2020 | Screenshot taken from video on Tyler Christensen's YouTube Channel, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — The week Tyler Christensen was scheduled to give a TEDx Talk about the impacts of exercise on learning and productivity, the COVID-19 pandemic took a turn for the worse. His presentation was canceled, and then he found out schools were shutting down.

Teacher and motivational speaker Tyler Christensen’s weight loss transformation, location and date not specified | Photo from Tyler Christensen website, St. George News

Christensen, who began speaking for audiences after losing 100 pounds by running ultramarathons, teaches fifth grade at George Washington Academy in St. George and has a passion for sharing his message to students about how to live a healthier life.

He told St. George News that after he found out schools were closing, he felt depressed and worried about the mental and physical well-being of his students, but he decided if they weren’t going back to school, maybe there was a way to still share his message.

“With the COVID-19 outbreak I knew many of my students were struggling in how to move forward with such an uncertain future, social isolation and a myriad of other challenges.”

At this point, Christensen started making daily videos on YouTube for his students, which were mostly daily correspondents or instructional videos, but as he was doing this, he decided that he wanted to go further and also produce motivational videos.

He started reaching out to friends and a few celebrities he knew to see if they would be interested in being interviewing on his channel, and then the Virtual School Assembly was launched in April. A new episode was posted each day for the duration of the school year.

Tyler Christensen (top center) along with guests he’s interviewed for his YouTube channel, location and date unspecified | Photo courtesy of Tyler Christensen, St. George News

“We’ve done well over 100 episodes and published 50 of them and have the rest for next year. So it just kind of grew because I wanted to help my students out,” he said.

The feedback from his students is that they wanted to hear more celebrities and YouTubers.

Some of his guests have included former NFL receiver Mark Pattison; Justine Siegal, the first woman to coach in major league baseball; Olympian track star Khadevis Robinson; NBA point guard Kyle Collinsworth; and magician Curtis Zimmerman.

Through these videos, Christensen hopes to expose K-12 students to a variety of skills they can learn and develop at home. He also hopes to provide kids with creative ways they can nurture or improve their physical and mental health.

He said he sets this example himself.

“During COVID, I’ve actually lost another 20 pounds and have done a lot of physical challenges,” he said.

Christensen said he’s worked hard all summer so that videos can be released throughout the year without him having to work on it once school starts when he will need to shift his attention back toward teaching his students.

“Depending on how things go during the year, if the channel continues to grow and if its serving students well, then next summer I’ll pick it back up and do more interviews.”

If school transitions to remote learning, he said he will once again be posting an episode every day. Otherwise, he plans to release a few each week to span the entire school year.

Tyler Christensen, a fifth grade teacher at George Washington Academy, speaks on stage to a group of students, Pleasant Grove, Utah, circa March 2020 | Screenshot taken from a video on Tyler Christensen’s YouTube Channel, St. George News

“It’s been incredible to see the support from these celebrities as they inspire kids around the world,” Christensen said. “Just like us, they’re stuck at home during this pandemic, and this is a way they can make a contribution and help out.”

There will be even more recognizable names in the second season, he said.

“We’ve got some Emmy winners, an Academy Award nominee, a couple Ninja Warriors, several Olympians and professional athletes in at least 10 different sports.”

Ultimately, this resource was created to help students, but it will help parents and teachers as well.

“I’ve always wanted something like this for my classroom. It’s kind of like TED Talks but made specifically for kids.  The messages are inspiring and educative. Teachers that want to help their students live better lives and not just get great test scores now have another really great resource available to them.”

Virtual School Assemblies Season Two is slated to begin mid-August.

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2020, all rights reserved.

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