Friday, July 31, 2009

Mr. & Ms. STEP (of TNHS): A Critique

by Marciano A. Paroy Jr.

I watched the Search for Mr. and Ms. STEP last week at the Tabuk gymanisum – which was one of the activities held by the Tabuk National High School as part of its observance of the Nutrition month. I was there primarily because my nephew was a contestant.
First things first. The pageant was, so far, the best choreographed show ever staged by TNHS since that contest years back when Mrs. Elizabeth Alipda chaired the STEP affair – and this column commends the organizers (led by Mrs. Elizabeth Gueverra, Mrs. Josephina Ba-i, and Mrs. Evelyn Ganotice) and the choreographer (Marlon Carbonel) for such a delightful show last week. Also, it gave me a chance to listen to Mrs. Pacita Litorco speak again.
The composition of candidates was obviously selected well by the different year-levels. Everything could have gone on smoothly – but then there were glaring drawbacks that are not at all acceptable in a beauty pageant.

ONE: The absence of a tabulator. In any pageant, the judging is acceptably subjective – and no attempt on objectivity is ever attained. It is subjective because the judges would always be influenced by their taste, preferences and past experiences. Take the attires, for instance. A beauty pageant is always a fashion show in itself. So, once a candidate parades down the ramp clothed in an outfit that somewhat mirrors the taste of a particular judge, then the outfit scores high in the rating sheet of that judge. Which is why we have statements like “Ah, sabali gamin ti taste jay judge” when a certain winning outfit fails to win an award. This again points to the importance of picking judges that have a background on beauty and fashion. That goes without saying that a person who dresses himself or herself sloppily should not even be considered to be a member of the judging panel. I am speaking here in general terms since the judges last week, in fairness, are known to dress neatly and appropriately.
Back to the absence of a tabulator. The presence of a tabulator would ensure that the scoring sheets would be passed on straight from the judges’ table. The tabulator would then just show the final tally to the panel after the computation. For the panel to know the result. Now, if judges themselves would sit as tabulators, the subjectivity mentioned above would further be played out. Each judge in any contest has a favorite. That’s a fact – and they are entitled to that. No one can take that away from them. But when judges sit as tabulators at the same time, this presents the problem of knowing right away that a favorite candidate did not win for, let’s say, a certain minor award. This would then give an opportunity for a judge to key-in some last minute changes in the scoring sheets. And then re-tabulate, until the desired outcome is attained.
Of course, I am not alleging that such a thing happened at the TNHS affair last week, since I believe in the uprightness of the judges. I am just pointing out this lapse of not naming a tabulator – considering that it only involves simple mathematics. This will thwart the tendency of the audience to speculate. It was a glaring irregularity which the organizers should avoid next time.

TWO: Since TNHS activities easily become crowd-drawers eagerly watched by the general public, the beauty pageant could have benefitted from the expertise of people in the community who, I am sure, would have responded positively to a request for judging duties.
No need to elucidate on the fact that the presence of outsiders will assure neutrality. This is what we always do in my school, the Kalinga-Apayao State College. We always tap the expertise of people from other agencies and from the beauty and fashion industry. In fact, we always borrow teachers from TNHS to compose the jury. Yearly favorites include Vivian Domingo, Maribel Bravo, Feliciano Felix and Ruby Belgica for the performing arts; Lorraine Tubban and Giovanni Asbucan for speech and writing competitions. And, true enough, they would always pick out the best.
The idea here is that we cannot be experts in all fields. The lazy practice of “Sika lattan ti agjudge” should be scoffed at. Tabuk is a goldmine of experts who would oblige to a simple request. No need for tokens. Provincial Tourism Officer Grace Kidang, for example, would not say no since she is always on the lookout for upcoming Miss Kalinga potentials anyway – and this is TNHS, long-acknowledged as the alma mater of most beauty queens: Sandra Rebancos, Kyna Bayangan, Maritess Annogui, Claire Amano, Pinky Baccud, Kimberly Doclan, Loraville Diocares, Shiela Dalsen, Shiela Romero, Liezel Sakai, Rina Quinsaat, Yoshi Sakai, Melissa Barcellano, Donna Peralta, Charisma Compas, Jocelyn Moldero, Catherine Delgado, Melanie Bautista, Ernalyn Carbonel, Lala Balais (I hope I haven’t missed a name or two, lest I would be reminded again by Marlon, who has a mental record of these matters).
Again, any school that holds a competition cannot completely assure that in-house judges can totally detach themselves from the proceedings and become impartial. So to avoid the possibility of doubts being raised, a teacher who was told “Sika lattan ti agjudge” should not answer “Sure. Wen ah.” It’s a deviation from appropriateness.

THREE: Judges should be all eyes and ears to everything that transpires on the ramp. Not a single detail must escape their attention: the mismatching colors, the ill-fitting heels, the heavy makeup, the awkward projection, etc. This should be sustained up to the Question and Answer Portion which is the most crucial part of the pageant, as it would make or unmake a candidate. Each word uttered, the enunciation, and the confidence in the delivery of the answers are key points that must be used as the yardstick by the judges. Bottom line: the judges must listen.
However, during the TNHS pageant, as the first two contestants (male and female) were being casually interviewed by the hosts, up to the delivery of their answers to the actual questions, the judges were still frantically conferring among themselves (about what, I have no idea, since they were supposed to have ready copies of the judging sheets).
From our side of the gym, we were staring at the judges as they moved this way and that way, talking spiritedly. Not one of them looked up at the stage and listened to the first two candidates as they were answering. Yet you could later see them putting in their ratings. The numerical ratings they put into the scoring sheets, of course, are their sole prerogative – and we do not question that. However, what numerical value would judges give a candidate during the Question and Answer Portion when they never listened in the first place? We all saw how busy they still were. They were trying to resolve something (maybe the scoring sheets were missing, maybe they were revising the criteria. Whatever) – hence their inattention to the first two candidates. It was during the third candidate’s turn and onwards that the judges finally settled themselves and listened attentively to the rest of the candidates.
The hosts, who can delay every proceeding during a show, could have helped out by stalling the casual and actual interview until they could see that the judges were ready. But then the hosts were also totally dependent on the program – the rule of the day is just to proceed and proceed (and, in fairness, Mrs. Sirikit B. Odan and Mrs. Eva L. Tubiera did a fine hosting job). This brings us back to the judges. A little signal from them could have given out the message that they were not yet ready to rate the final interview.
But no such move was made, and so the delivery of answers by the first two candidates just drifted by. And so Mrs. Rachel Sarol, mother of the first candidate, was visibly bewildered in her corner.
Let me stress one thing (in my capacity as a humble connoisseur in the beauty and fashion industry of this town): the giving of answer is a very personal attempt on the part of a candidate to establish a connection with the judges. It is the candidate’s last bid to convince the judges that he or she has what it takes to win. That is why, in all pageants, the candidates would shun out everything else during Q and A. The crowd seemingly disappears, and the candidate just focuses on the judges as he or she gives the answer. It’s like saying “This is me. This is what I have to say, so listen to me, and as you listen, I hope I impress you enough.”
All pageant judges recognize this – thus, they also sit still, maintain eye contact with the candidates, even smiling at them, nodding now and then, prodding them. It’s their way of saying “Go on, you’re on the right track. I’m listening.” This move relaxes the candidates and gives further confidence – knowing that the people at the judging tables are paying attention to their thoughts, however shallow the thoughts may be.
Unfortunately, this was not at all observed during the turn of the first two candidates at the search in TNHS.
Maka concentrate ka pay ngarud nga mangdingngeg ti kunkuna diay adda diay stage nu dika met agtatalna? Funny, datayo pay met nga teachers ti agkara baga iti “You there! Sit still! Face front and listen attentively!”
Now, here’s something that throws it all out of balance. A colleague in the local media, wanting to know the results even before the actual announcement, casually approached one of the judges and asked “Sino ngay ti Mr. STEP?” The judge answered “As usual, obvious ba?”
That would be hard to answer, since you would have to assume that you know whom the judge is referring to. Now that’s a real hitch. First, the statement presupposes that there is already a winner even before the contest began. How can there be an obvious winner when the the audience is even divided into four factions? Second, it bares the partiality of the judge towards the candidate that the judge was referring to. Third, it further cements my foregoing argument that in-house personnel should not be given judging tasks.
My nephew, Kurdell, garnered 1st runner-up. And up to this day, I am impressed by his display of competitive spirit, yet not forgetting that it’s also for fun, an experience that he would one day look back to with a smile. Initially, he did not want to participate, and I did not even insist that he should when he gave his first refusal. But later, he finally gave in – so I don’t know what convincing powers were applied by his adviser, Mam Betty Olatic.
Don’t get me wrong. I am not insisting that my nephew should have won. That’s water under the bridge already. In fact, my first advice for him after the pageant was “Move on from here. It was a nice experience on conquering stage fright and developing sportsmanship.”
I have nothing against Shaquille Diasen, who was crowned as Mr. STEP. In fact, I also singled him out from the set of contestants. I recognized that he was a very strong contender and as soon as the show began, I knew it would be a fight between my nephew and Mr. Diasen – and it would be fine with me if Mr. Diasen would win. I even noted that he’s a talented rocker, complete with a live band – one thing that never fails to impresse. Being a 4th year student, he is already ripening into a young man, whereas my 2nd year nephew is still a “totoy” so-to-speak. He even exhibited good manners when he took time to approach my nephew later and shook hands. I do wish him well for the regional level of the Search for Mr. and Ms. STEP. I just hope his aunts Anne and Geraldine would hire a designer this time for his outfits.
Ms STEP Eileen Pelicer was a delight to behold as well. She exudes the persona of being delicate, fresh and sweet – winning elements in pageants. The Pelicer family must be beaming with pride now (Eileen is the sister of a very special “friend” Eleuterio Jr.) Along with Khastria Sarol (with her sophisticated and classy deportment), they would one day walk down the ramp for either Ms Tabuk or Ms Kalinga, and end up as beauty queens. If they want to.
So there. I am not critical of the winners. As a teacher, I always push students to go ahead and seize each moment to shine. What riled me were the things I enumerated and discussed earlier – and I pointed them out with the hope that such lapses would be avoided in the future - not only by T NHS but by other schools as well, since mahilig tayo met ti contests. That is my intent.
I know that I might stir some emotions with this outpour. I had second thoughts about going ahead with this article, considering that I am a TNHS product (and I say that with pride), and I still regard my former teachers highly. Mrs. Editha Baddongon, to cite an example, was my 3rd year adviser who made chemistry fun to learn, and whose teachings became very useful when I mistakenly pursued (and later discontinued) BS Medical Technology.
But then I have always believed in asserting ourselves, especially if I also know what I am blabbering about. Joon Ascaño, Marlon Carbonel, Jerry Ladrido and I are yearly involved in Ms Tabuk and Ms Kalinga (as designers, choreographers and committee members). That, therefore, equips us with the right to say nga ammu mi met ah ti kunkuna mi when it comes to beauty pageant matters. We can say that without batting an eyelash.
Lastly, as both an educator and a community watchdog – being a member of the Kalinga Media Organization and as the editor-in-chief of this paper since March 2008 – there are events in the educational world that must also be highlighted and harmlessly discussed in the open (like this contest), especially if they would contribute to the multi-aspect development of our learners. Some may appraise my topic this week as trivial, but no. There are no trivial issues where young learners are concerned. An elementary teacher, for instance, who would just glare at a Grade 1 pupil and say “Nagkuneng ka metten! Awan inammum!” may scar that pupil for life. Or a teacher who has an ax to grind against the family of a certain student and decides to be vindictive by way of poor grades and scare tactics may push the student further into his or her cocoon. These are but some of the things that must be closely watched by the community – which any school is accountable to. But that is not our subject this week, so we’ll tackle it later.
Which reminds me: students (I would like to single out Ms Claribel Dupali) from both the secondary and tertiary levels have been sending me emails and text messages, asking for their little space in this paper since we do have the Teachers’ Views corner. I promised them that I shall find space for it one of these days. Actually, I already have a name for it: e3 (read as “e to the third power”). It would be an opportunity for our young thinkers to Express, Expose and Evaluate anything that affects them (whether positively or negatively) while in the process of knowledge acquisition – including issues they may not have the courage to tell their parents. There are already enough materials in my possession and it is both enlightening and surprising to have a peek into the minds of our young learners.
Enough. More of these next time.

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