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2018
Panagbenga Flower Festival
 
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The school’s role in shaping young talents
by Vanessa Abubo

WINNING PERFORMANCE -- Members of the Baguio City National High School’s Special Program in the Arts have been reaping awards in various competitions such as the annual Panagenga Festival with their great sense of value for the rich Filipino culture and heritage. -- Harley Palangchao

With her hair down and bare face, Jillian Lorraine Damasco, a grade 10 student, looks like any other City Higher in a school with over 6,000 students. But when she dons glittery costumes and put on some makeup, no one would be surprised to find out that she is among the dancers of Aloha Philippines – the region’s delegate in the 2018 National Festival of Talents in Dumaguete City, a member of the winning dance troupe during the Panagbenga street dancing competition, and so on.

Like Jillian, Krissia Pauline Castillo also proved that she is not an average 10th grader as she bagged the top prize and bested 416 entries during the Japan International Cooperation Agency poster design competition in July.

Meanwhile, school musicians Xyrhyz Lohan, Mylene Mones, and Frances Alain Munar are also juggling their time as students and members of the newly formed Kwerdas Filipinas (Philippine Rondalla Ensemble), which recently held its premiere concert at the Cultural Center of the Philippines.

Such talents, it can be said, are among the reasons why Baguio City National High School’s Special Program in the Arts received last year a commendation from Education Usec. Alberto Muyot who thanked the school, particularly the program, for rendering “exemplar” performances even in the national scene, former BNCHS principal Romulo Flora said.

Launched in 2000 by the DepEd, the program has been the key to fostering the potentials of artistically inclined students. And being the premier school in the Cordillera to offer the arts program, BCNHS now caters to more than 400 gifted students in various art forms and disciplines such as music (band, rondalla, and vocals or choir), visual arts, theater arts, digital arts, creative writing, and dance.

The screening for incoming grade 7 students involves passing the IQ test and the performance test based on specialization requirements. Once qualified, they will then be trained by mentors – teachers skilled in the various disciplines – du-ring their specialization time, which is 10 hours a week or more, especially when there are upcoming events and competitions to prepare for.

Regardless of the categorization, the different specializations still work collaboratively on certain occasions, says rondalla mentor Ruth Ellen Sagsagap.

“The non-performing arts group such as the Literary Arts students sometimes writes lyrics for the choir or scripts for the theater arts; whereas visual and digital artists also help in making the props for the performers,” she said.

But being in the special program is not always about extra-curricular performances and being in the limelight. These young artists are, after all, students who still need to meet academic requirements. While trying to excel in their own field, they are also expected to excel in academics, which means they must maintain a minimum grade of 85 percent in their specialization and 80 percent in other subjects.

Surprisingly, this does not seem a problem as most of them are with honors, and some are with high honors. Herself an academic achiever at the same time the president of the SPA Dance Troupe, Jillian knows how to catch up in her subjects even after several engagements in and out of the campus.

“We need to always prioritize academics, but we also have to excel in our discipline,” Jillian said. “It is just a matter of maintaining our focus and knowing our priorities.”

Mary Ann dela Cruz, Jillian’s mentor, shares the same view. “I always tell them that life is not all about dancing,” she said. “You have to focus on academics, but if you really want to pursue dancing as a career, then go on.”

Asked if she ever felt exhausted from series of trainings even during weekends while still keeping up with school requirements, Jillian admits that she sometimes feels tired, but added she can handle the stress.

“I love what I am doing, and since this (dancing) is my passion, I am able to manage the stress of being a student and a performer,” she said, recalling how she made it through with flying colors last school year amid competitions in the national level and in “Pilipinas Got Talent.”

Still, among the biggest challenges arts students face are the expectations of the school and the community. Constantly tapped to be at the forefront during school activities, more so in citywide and regional events, these young artists, particularly members of the school band and dance troupe, need to always be in tip-top shape to be able to deliver outstanding performances.

To do so necessitates intensive mentoring, even at the expense of sacrificing time with the family to attend trainings, rehearsals, and other engagements.

For her “flamboyant dancers,” as she describes them, coach Mary Ann puts premium on discipline and confidence as the key for continuous improvement.

“They are already skilled dancers, but I always have to instill discipline and build their confidence so that they can be at their best,” she said, adding she is grateful that the former dance troupe mentor also assists during rehearsals.

“I tell them, ‘You have to perform well because you are sharing your talents.’ I also scold them at times, but it is for their own good.”

-- Harley Palangchao

As for Jillian, having a strict mentor is something she appreciates. “I think it is just right that our mentor is strict because we really learn more.”

Furthermore, they invite college students – members of the University of Baguio Graces, for instance – to train the students on different dance genres such as hip-hop and other contemporary dances. Coach Mary Ann added that the best dance trainers come from Baguio, hence they need not look elsewhere for one.

She also said that some of their former students join college dance troupes, and later on come back to train younger groups. “It is very fulfilling to know that they are still active in dancing even in college, and they are even leading their group,” she said.

 But since there are not any recent competitions or engagements, the group is biding their time for now, focusing mainly on studies and occasional seminars before they get back to the game in the District Meet in September and Division Festival of Talents in November. They will again be at their busiest in February, rehearsing all day under the heat of the sun in preparation for their stint in the Panagbenga Festival, which is considered as the city’s main creative platform.

The annual flower festival has become a proof of the youth’s involvement in promoting arts. It is their chance to showcase not only their artistic talents but also the Cordilleran culture before local and foreign audiences.

Although local artists and arts advocates express their worry about the youth’s indifference towards learning traditional art forms, particularly in crafts, the younger generation is still very much involved as far as the performing arts is concerned.

This is where the school comes in. Being a space where young talents are trained and their skills honed, the school offers the arts program not only for the sake of students’ holistic development but also to prepare them to take on the challenge of being an artist in this creative city. After all, the school is undeniably a part of Baguio’s “creative ecosystem.”

Aside from BCNHS Special Program in the Arts, members of Pinsao National High School are also regular performers during big events at the City Hall grounds due to their excellent presentations in music and dance. — Harley Palangchao

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