Thanks to Amore Coffee for their support.
In April, Heritage E-STEM Magnet School birthed a TikTok star. And it’s not a student—it’s administrator Wayne Felton II. He started experimenting with the online video service that’s crazy popular among the kids and found success with videos racking up thousands of views. Felton’s TikTok profile has more than 170,000 followers, 2.3 million likes, and shares videos talking about everything from Hamilton to COVID-19 safety to the weirdness of TikTok.
That Hamilton video (one of his many, many Hamilton videos) was liked and retweeted by Hamilton creator Lin Manuel Miranda. Here’s the first video he sent to Heritage students. But Felton’s favorite video is Bohemian Rhapsody.
A school official who can meet middle schoolers where they’re at is a story we needed to hear. So we connected with Felton to learn more.
More About Wayne Felton II
Felton joined the Heritage team in January. As an associate administrator, he works with seventh and eighth grades, handling behavior, AVID (college and career readiness) and PBIS (behavior) teams, and generally making sure the environment at school is safe.
Felton and his wife, Samiya, have four kids ranging in age from two to seven. No stranger to the area, Felton used to serve as a youth pastor at the Holy Christian Church on the West Side, where Felton’s father is the pastor. In addition to being a TikTok star, Felton enjoys working out and playing the drums.
“I’ve worked in this area for most of my adult life and it feels like home.”Wayne Felton II
A Conversation With Wayne Felton
Here’s our interview with Felton:
So how does a middle school administrator get to be a TikTok star? Why did you get on TikTok and what do you get out of it?
One of the things I do is play music in the cafeteria during lunch. I let kids request songs. I noticed when certain songs would come on all the kids would dance. I later found out it was a popular TikTok dance video. Once we moved into distance learning I thought making videos of popular TikTok trends and sending them to the kids would be a nice way to connect with students. So I got on TikTok to learn and record dances, and became obsessed with the creativity that exists on the platform. There are so many people making really creative content.
Help the parents out: What should they know about their kids using TikTok?
TikTok has an algorithm that groups content together, in essence keeping the content most relevant to you in front of you. Teen TikTok is a totally different world than the content that is curated for me. I would advise parents to have their children show them the content they are creating or viewing. In my experience the app is safe, but I’m always in favor of monitoring.
How do the students at Heritage respond when they find out you’re on TikTok?
When I first started sending them videos, they encouraged me to make more, which was fun. I was glad they enjoyed them. As it’s morphed into a hobby for me many students comment on my videos that I’m “TikTok famous.”
In addition to being a school administrator here in West St. Paul, you’re also the pastor of a church in Mankato. How does that work?
I started out my career as a youth pastor at The Holy Christian Church on the West Side of St. Paul. I then took over the church in Mankato, commuting back and forth to Mankato. I have a fantastic team of people who live there so I’ve been able to lead that church from a distance. So I am grateful I get to live in two worlds I love.
Some people might be surprised to see a pastor working in a school. Obviously there’s the separation of church and state so you’re not pastoring in school, but how does a pastoral background help you as you work with middle school students?
I was fortunate to start my work as a youth pastor working with middle and high school students, and learned how to connect with kids then in a way that has translated to my work in schools. I care deeply about the academic outcomes, and yet know how to connect with a wide range of students. I’ve loved working with this age group from the beginning and am honored to continue to.
How well do you think we dealt with nearly three months of distance learning?
I think we handled distance learning very well. The percentage of students who were and remained engaged throughout the process was very high. Students adjusted very well, and did an amazing job giving us feedback on how to improve. Our hope is to have students back in the building in the fall so we can connect with them again, because the toughest part about distance learning for me was not being with the students.
We’re having a tremendous conversation about racism in America right now and with that comes saying the wrong thing or slipping into a common pitfall—it’s the kind of thing you often respond to on TikTok. How can we do better at having this conversation?
I believe the first part is being willing to have the conversation. The second is, being willing to listen to the voices that usually aren’t heard. And the third is being willing to change one’s view based on new information and the experiences of people of color who have experienced racism. In my view one should be less worried about saying the wrong thing and more worried about the impact that racism has had on those around us.
With police killings and lootings and what feels like a culture war over racism, it can be hard to be hopeful. What gives you hope in this time?
Some of the legislation that has been passed, the conversations that are being had, policies that are being changed. Ultimately the protests are aiming to see a system which has been a means of oppression be changed. When I see little wins, I get excited.
What’s your favorite thing about working in West St. Paul?
I love Heritage. The staff and the students are fantastic. I’ve worked in this area for most of my adult life and it feels like home.
Thanks to Wayne Felton II for sharing his thoughts and insights with us.
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