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Corina Torrez: A Bridge to Community

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There’s a new sense of pride in the air when you walk down the halls of Bear Creek High School. Students proudly wear their blue, white and silver spirit wear and athletes sport their jerseys for game days. It’s pride that’s driven by unity and Bruin Spirit that didn’t exist after the pandemic. So how did this spirit reignite? Ms. Corina Torrez, PE teacher and associated student body leadership director, is to thank for it.

Only two years before, when the world was on lockdown and students relegated to over a year and a half of online learning, Bear Creek High School, like many schools, experienced a decline in unity. With anxiety at its peak and kids having to adapt to a new style of learning, the school lost a sense of hope, and it didn’t seem as if it would return when the students were called back to the classroom. “There was a lack of motivation to want to participate in anything,” recalled senior class President Samantha Monarrez, who experienced her sophomore year remotely. In addition, Bear Creek was making bad press, with fights and police visits; the situation generated a negative reputation that seemed hopeless.

Building a Bridge toBear Creek
Seeing a decline in the school she loved, Corina Torrez, a physical education teacher with over 16 years of experience, rose to the occasion and took on the position as associated student body director. This would be a great deal of commitment, but Torrez wanted to create a school that students and staff could be proud of, one that they would have positive memories of. Rather than playing it safe her first year, she rolled up her sleeves and set straight to work. “When I took the position, I had three goals,” Corina said. “I was determined to create a community, highlight the positivity and have fun.”

She did just that. Actively involving students and staff, she encouraged their participation in every activity possible. One new event to build community was called Spirit in our Jeans, in which staff and students took a pair of jeans and decorated them to reflect their personality. Torrez wanted to create an activity of ownership in what people bring to Bear Creek, as well as create a conversation starter. “Students would include writings, symbols or different patches. We wanted to create a common interest for all to converse about.” Torrez recognized that in order to build community, students and staff needed to connect on a deeper level. This event offered something that would create a “universal pride for everyone involved in wearing the jeans,” said Torrez. It has now been so successful it has become the start of a new tradition.

As more events began to develop, Torrez realized that the motivator was attitude. “You must go in to work like you want to be there. If you go in to work like you don’t want to be there, the kids will see that,” she said. Her enthusiasm and energy started to rub off as she engaged more students and teachers to follow suit. Principal Dr. Allen Dosty noted her enthusiasm was contagious. “Normally it’s teachers trying to follow suit with the leadership class, but in Ms. Torrez’s case, the kids in ASB have to keep up with her.”

Where did all this enthusiasm come from? Growing up attending Lincoln High School, Torrez recalled, her own experience was memorable due to her involvement in a variety of activities. “Sports created a security in me and a sense of belonging, everything from the golf and soccer team to the high school sorority, BZ, or Baby Zeta, a junior sorority to one at the University of the Pacific, to creating floral arrangements in interior design.” During these years, she encountered a sense of safety and confidence. It’s no surprise Corina has tried to emulate that same energy and apply it to Bear Creek.

International Festival
Yet one of the biggest game changers for Bear Creek was bringing to light the school’s diversity. Holding true to her promise to highlight the positivity, Corina embarked on expanding International Festival, Bear Creek’s annual event that has run for more than 20 years. This event showcases multicultural dances and cuisines that represent the diverse student population. The city of Stockton has one of the most diverse demographics per capita, and Bear Creek High School reflects that diversity, with more than 30 primary languages spoken. Corina wanted to celebrate this uniqueness by bringing it to the attention of the Stockton community.

She began organizing her students to invite local community members. “We invited the mayor and the Chief of Police.” They also invited distinguished alumni, former teachers, local news stations and media outlets. With some big local names, they created a VIP section for distinct parking and seating. “This kind of attention has brought a lot of good to Bear Creek,” said Jaesa Del Prato, ASB president, who saw the connection of community emerging before her eyes. The event included local food trucks, and each club showcased their culture or country. In addition, many of their cultural clubs put on dance performances. “We had so many that we had to restrict each group to three-minute presentations,”
Corina reported.

She recognized that the diversity of the town was the key to collaboration. “That’s our ticket to developing Stockton into the city’s unique potential.” Bringing the community to Bear Creek also allowed opportunities to bring Bear Creek to the community. The International Festival inspired Stockton Police Department to create an Asian Heritage Celebration that showcased the various Asian cultures in Stockton and incorporated many of the students to be part of the celebration. “Our youth have untapped energy that can be used to create a better community; we need to support it and encourage it as a city!” exclaimed Corina, proud of the city’s partnership.

A New School, A New Spirit
As more opportunities to build community took place, the positivity in the school was evolving. Students were connecting again with each other; teachers were actively participating in student-run events. “This is huge in creating a full circle of engagement,” remarked Corina. Students even brought back old clubs such as the Kababayan club and introduced new ones such as BC Latinos, Punjabi Junction and African Dance Club. What was even more special, the kids were connecting with other clubs. “Each group was helping each other celebrate each other’s cultures,” says Corina proudly. PE teacher and colleague Matt Atad knew from the start she was perfect for the job. “She’s really good at communicating and bringing people together. She just gets people to buy in and to commit.” Yet Corina doesn’t look at herself as taking the credit; rather she feels this is what she’s called to do. “There’s nothing that makes me happier than seeing a child happy and engaged. My soul is happy when I can connect our youth to participate in something and assist them to create a sense of ownership and independence in what they want for their life,” she remarked.
Because of her tenacity and ambitious drive, she’s been given the name Slay the Day Torrez by her students, a reference to her ability to make any goal happen. But Corina’s goal always goes back to wanting to create those special memories that students and staff will look back on just as she had in her high school days. She believes this momentum will inspire the next generation. “I anticipate greatness coming from these kids. I feel like we’ve started a positive movement by motivating people to work toward a collective vision that is important for our community. People are forming behind us. We are noticed. They’re reaching out, and other schools will follow suit. People can support our youth by celebrating their connections in a community setting.”

A New Perspective for the Future
As the year came to an end, a new energy filled the halls with memories and enthusiasm for the future. “She’s one of those teachers I will never forget,” said Samantha Monarrez. “She’s taught me so much and inspired me so much.” Yet the students aren’t the only ones impacted by the change. “It’s a different vibe and a different environment at Bear Creek now than there was before,” said Matt Atad. “I just can’t wait to see us moving into the future. It’s just gonna get better and it’s because of Corina.”

Now that Corina has set the bar high, the next question remains. What is she going to do next year? Already dialing in the creative juices, she wants to unite the campus further. “I am currently working on an Informational Fair that connects our students to all the right representatives. I hope to expand information for sports, clubs, colleges and services such as suicide prevention, child abuse council, job recruitment, military, that will activate a connection for every student.” And for Corina Torrez, every student matters.