John Arthur’s sixth grade students are natural performers. Their comfort in front of a camera stems from the unusual homework John assigns—that is, music videos. Those videos have become a YouTube channel—9th Evermore—that lifts up student voices and helps them process their emotions about issues that affect them.

The launch of a classroom YouTube channel

A few years ago, after the tragic sinking of a ferry off the coast of Korea, John wanted to help his students put their reactions into words. But they didn’t want to write a standard essay. Instead, they asked John if they could make a music video. John, a musician himself, was excited by their creative approach and gave the go-ahead. The students filmed a compilation of song and poetry that helped them make sense of the disaster, set to the track of a pop song. And soon enough, 9th Evermore was born.

The channel grows

John’s students have kept the channel running for years, which has proven especially important as classes transferred online. Each class brings something new to the project, reacting to different social and political issues and giving voice to them. “Their work,” John says, “literally speaks for itself.”

In the midst of political upheaval in 2016, John prompted his students to make a video where they directly addressed their hopes and fears. And, to help them discover their own inner strength even in the face of uncertainty, John asked them to respond to those fears by filling in the blank of a concrete and actionable statement: “I’m going to make it better by…”

These days, his students’ videos tackle dozens of hot-button issues like racism, poverty, and immigrant detention. The nonstandard format of their assignments helps them connect more deeply to current events, their communities, and their own emotions.

Teacher as mentor

John understands how important it is to have a mentor that helps students develop their voice and opinions. He remembers a 9th grade teacher who encouraged him, a self-described “timid Korean kid,” to join the debate club as a way to address his hesitation of public speaking. Her support emboldened John. When she suggested he’d make a great teacher, he took the idea and ran with it.

For John, it’s an honor to represent children of all backgrounds, interests, and perspectives. He strives to make diversity and current events a focal part of his teaching so that his students can be empowered to take a stand on issues they really care about. Where many students are expected to sit and stay quiet in class, John urges his students to speak out and take action. John’s role as a mentor earned him the title of Utah’s Teacher of the Year in 2021.

John is awestruck by how his students have handled the past year. They show up every day ready to give their best, academically and creatively, in such a difficult time. Even though 9th Evermore got its start on a virtual platform, the connections made in the classroom are important, too. John looks forward to more normal times when he can inspire his students in person. All children of all kinds deserve a champion, John believes, and he strives to be just that. He lives by the Robert Frost quote, “I am not a teacher. I am an awakener.”

What’s next for John and 9th Evermore

This year, feeling isolated after the pandemic, his students are planning a new video to uplift and connect with one another, strengthening the community they’ve built through mics and screens. And John is exploring new ways to bring their creative expressions to life. He’s looking at a possible partnership with a film center that can help his students develop the skills they need to keep showing the world what they’re passionate about.

From music videos to more individualized short films, John hopes they take advantage of all the ways they can make their voices heard. For his part, he’ll continue to inspire and support every voice in his classroom, giving students the spotlight they deserve on the stage he’s set.

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