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Teacher Crowned Miss America 2001

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An elementary school gym teacher is the new Miss America. Angela Perez Baraquio says schools need to infuse character education into the daily culture of every school. This week, Education World and Ms. Baraquio discussed character education and other issues facing educators. Included: Baraquio talks about teacher pay, who inspired her to become a teacher, and being the first Asian American to wear the Miss America crown!

The last couple of weeks have been a whirlwind for Angela Perez Baraquio. Representing the state of Hawaii, Baraquio was crowned Miss America on October 14. During the first days of her year of service, she has made numerous appearances; given several speeches; visited six states and Washington, D.C.; appeared on the David Letterman show; and met with General Colin Powell.

In a telephone interview with Education World this week, Baraquio exuded enthusiasm for her new responsibilities as Miss America and the opportunity she has to promote character education. She believes a school can turn around negative student behaviors by infusing character education into its daily culture.

"It's not enough to have intelligence; you need intelligence plus character," Baraquio maintained. "You need to have good character to be a well-rounded and a contributing citizen."

Although her nonstop schedule allows few free moments, Baraquio's enthusiasm about being a spokesperson for the Miss American organization is contagious. She will also serve as a spokesperson for other nonprofit organizations, including the Children's Miracle Network, America's Promise, and the Alliance for Youth Make a Difference Day. Asked whether her already grueling schedule is wearing her out, she confessed to taking naps in the car when traveling.

Baraquio is thrilled that she will serve as a role model for other Asian Americans. She hadn't given much thought to the fact that she is the first Asian American to be crowned Miss America, but after taping a segment for the David Letterman Show, she was greeted by some Asian Americans outside Letterman's New York City studio. Among those waiting for her was a Korean man sitting in a wheelchair. He asked to shake her hand and told her how proud he was that she represented Asian Americans. The man's comments nearly brought her to tears, Baraquio said.

Baraquio wants everyone to know the difference between the Miss America organization and the Miss U.S.A. pageant. "Miss U.S.A. is a for-profit organization, and the Miss America organization is a nonprofit organization," she said. "Some people don't know the difference." The Miss America organization is a scholarship program, she said.

So far, Baraquio has won $81,000 in scholarship assistance. She will use the scholarships for a master's degree in education administration. "I believe education is so important and so empowering," she said. Following her year of service, Baraquio plans to do her graduate work in a summer program so she can continue to teach during the school year. Her goal is to one day become a school superintendent in Hawaii.

One year ago, Baraquio did not intend to enter the Miss America program. She had competed two previous times, and she credits two of her students for making this year possible.

"I was sitting in my office when two of my students came in," Baraquio recalled. "They said 'Coach, we love volleyball, but we are so afraid to go out for the team.' I said to them 'If you don't try, you'll never know.' "

Baraquio offered an example. She explained to the girls that she had taken a risk by trying out for the Miss Hawaii pageant in the past. Her students turned her advice back to her. "Why don't you try again?"

So Baraquio made them a deal. If they tried out for the volleyball team, she would try out for Miss Hawaii again. She says that she thanks her students for making this all possible because they really did!

EDUCATION WORLD'S E-INTERVIEW

Following is the text of part of Education World's e-interview with the Miss America 2001.

Education World: Your platform promotes character education, and you state society must infuse character development into our daily school culture. As an elementary school gym teacher, please offer some examples of how you personally include character education in your classes.

Angela Perez Baraquio: First, I teach my students what is called the TRIBES program. It's a program I learned through an in-service seminar as a student in Hawaii. It includes community agreements rather than rules. The program teaches students to have mutual respect, which means respecting yourself and others. They need to have attentive listening, which means listening with your eyes, ears, heart, and whole body. They have the right to pass, which means that if they have a problem and they don't feel like sharing it, they can pass. They can't pass on taking tests or running laps, though. There can be no putdowns. Students must show appreciation. If they can't say something positive, they shouldn't say anything, I tell them.

I also stage games in my classes to stress teamwork and cooperation. We have team names and team yells. In the staged game, one team loses and one team wins. The next time, the other team wins; all the kids get to learn what winning feels like.

Our school features one character trait every month. There are banners everywhere. Some of those traits are compassion, respect, and perseverance. All my students know that perseverance means they should not be quitters. I ask them: Are you going to be quitters? They say "no!"

I realized they were internalizing the message about perseverance when one of my first graders said he knew what perseverance was and sang me a song he had heard on the radio. The words, sung by a young woman, go like this: "If at first you don't succeed, you can dust yourself off and try it again." That student internalized that message about never giving up by recognizing it in a modern-day song.

I loved it and it tickled me.

EW: What do you think are the biggest obstacles in teaching our nation's children to become well-rounded individuals and contributing citizens?

Baraquio: I think the biggest obstacle is the negative media kids are getting. We focus too much on the bad things and not enough on the positive things they do. There is a lack of positive role models too.

EW: A recent survey of the nation's teens reveals that many kids lie to their parents and cheat on tests. Do you think character education can turn that around? How?

Baraquio: Yes, I do think so. I don't think people give teens enough credit, generally. If we are infusing character education into the subject and really take the time to care about our students and model those traits, then we can turn [negative behavior] around. If they trust us more and know that they are trusted, I think they will be more honest. People usually lie when they are afraid. If you are in a caring relationship, you are more likely to tell the truth.

We need to teach students character education, and we need to have adults to model those character traits.

EW: Why did you become a teacher?

Baraquio: I became a teacher because I had wonderful teachers growing up. They really made me excited about being a lifelong learner. I had good teachers who wanted to make difference. They made me feel special.

I had a second-grade teacher who made me feel like I was the only student she had. She'd leave notes in my desk, telling me she liked what I was doing. Then I found out she left notes in all the students' desks. What? Everybody gets one? She made me feel I was her best student, though. Being one of ten children, I didn't always get a lot of attention, and my teachers always made me feel special. I said to myself "I can do that, too!"

My parents were both teachers. My mother taught English. My father was an electrician, and he taught math and science. I am the only one out of ten children in the family to go into the profession.

My varsity basketball coach also inspired me to go into teaching. When I was in the ninth through twelve grades, I played varsity basketball. My coach said the worst mistake is when you don't learn from a mistake. She said when things go wrong, keep playing the mistake in your head to learn from it. She taught me sportsmanship. She taught us to be humble winners and gracious losers.

Really, though, all my teachers inspired me to go into teaching.

EW: According to your biography, you plan to continue your career as an educator. You hope to become a school administrator. Your aspirations are in contrast with the current trend in the United States, where there is a growing shortage of teachers and school administrators. Why do you plan to continue in the field?

Baraquio: I want to be a teacher no matter what I do. It's in my blood. I'd love to be a school administrator because I would like to be a leader. My goal is to be a superintendent of public schools in Hawaii. Kids can be shuffled in and out of schools. I want to make a difference with them.

I think that good tenured teachers should not be afraid of high standards because it is very important for teachers and students. I think high standards are what we need to focus on. We need people who are passionate about being teachers. I hate it when children say school is so boring.

Good teachers should not be afraid of accountability. Tenure protects teachers, but they should still be held accountable. That is why I believe in peer mentoring for teachers. As a student teacher, my cohort would videotape us teaching and offer input in three areas: praise, questions, and ways we could polish. It helped us examine ourselves and be objective about our teaching. I think that helped a lot, especially coming from a peer.

I also think we need to offer teachers more incentives to teach. It should be considered a noble profession, not just by educators but by everybody. There needs to be quality compensation. I have friends, right out college, making $60,000. Then I know teachers, with master's degrees, some with doctorates, who are making $40,000 after teaching for 30 years. That is unjust. If the community values teachers, people need to put their money where their mouth is. There must be quality pay for teachers in order for people to enter the profession.

EW: What do you think might promote higher rates of teacher retention?

Baraquio: Incentives would need to be improved. I agree with a lot of the things that Al Gore says about education, such as high standards and giving teachers bonuses. If your students do well and meet or exceed the standards, it is a reflection of what the teacher has done. Then give them the bonuses. But let teachers earn them.

There are good and not-so-good teachers, and we need to find a way to differentiate between them and then eliminate those not-so-good teachers. That's what accountability is all about. Accountability isn't something to be afraid of.

Teachers shouldn't have to have two and three jobs to make ends meet, though. There need to be ways to provide them with quality pay and with incentives such as tax breaks and lower mortgages.

I know teachers who have no children of their own but consider their students their children. These teachers put every spare penny into their schools and classrooms without being reimbursed. The community needs to get together with those teachers, and the community should take on the job of asking teachers what they need for their classrooms. Community involvement in schools is necessary because the schools are the hub of society.

Diane Weaver Dunne
Education World®
Copyright © 2005 Education World

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