In one scene, she locks her eyes toward the camera and announces upcoming deadlines for scholarships.
In another, she lip-syncs to R&B hit “Sittin’ Up in My Room” by singer-songwriter Brandy Norwood to commemorate the last day of the 2019-2020 school year.
By the end of every dance, her videos buzz with likes and comments from amused viewers.
In the winter, former Bonita Vista High (BVH) counselor Lalaine Torres received an unexpected request from students: to join video-sharing platform TikTok. Always a “sucker for pop culture,” she agreed to start posting videos on April 21, and so the “smiles” began.
“All the TikToks I posted [were sharing] fun and positivity. [They] had positive messages for students and some announcements [about deadlines and scholarships],” Torres said. “I wanted to do something the students can smile at. If trying to do the popular dances on TikTok that the students all know makes them crack a smile and even laugh, I felt that the mission was accomplished.”
Torres’ most viewed videos showcase her celebrating College Signing Day, the May 1 deadline for seniors to commit to a college or university, and Teacher Appreciation Week. Others include montages of dance routines and messages of encouragement to students during distance learning.
“I heard about her TikToks through my friends,” rising junior Lourdes Castruita said. “I laughed at first because I thought, ‘Finally a way in which staff members can relate to us.’ [In her] most recent one, I saw [that] she posted about us [students] having a good summer, [which] was the one to grab my attention the most. But all of them [grab my attention] because they get me thinking about scholarships and [deadlines].”
Another rising junior, Samantha Bianes, personally introduced Torres to TikTok and explained its various features and overall culture to her. When Torres began using the app, Bianes found it “cool” and appreciated watching clips of Torres uplifting students during the pandemic.
“It’s always nice to see counselors reach out and try to brighten a student’s day,” Bianes said. “I feel like it was a great way to get information and take an extra step to show they care for us.”
According to Torres, she was personally thanked by parents, teachers and staff from other schools for “putting a smile on their face” amid the challenges and heavy emotions of quarantine. She believes social media plays a critical role in bringing people together during times of social distancing, and TikTok ultimately allows her to “strengthen [her] rapport” with students.
“I think social media plays the biggest role right now. Everyone is at home, being safe and keeping their distance. And for many, it’s the only thing that feels normal. [Social media] is a way [to] see how and what everyone is doing during this stay-at-home order. People feel supported this way because everything right now is so relatable. We are all going through this together, and social media brings [us] together,” Torres said.