St. Dominic gets first panel discussion win

They faced doubt from peers and opponents going into the eighth annual Interscholastic Youth Panel Discussion.

They battled back with their "Know or Die" constitutional awareness campaign from a last-place finish 13 months ago and five straight years of placing low.

St. Dominic High School went from last to first at the annual interscholastic challenge Sunday night, beating out four past champions and capturing the Challenge Cup for the first time in eight years.

Winning presenters Survesh Pursnani and Charlesea Joseph attribute their nine-point win over three-time champion St. Maarten Academy to complementary talents that won Charlesea the title of Best Speaker and conveyed their "Know or Die" message of becoming informed about emerging Separate Status. "We’re a good team," Charlesea told The Daily Herald after the competition. "Where he is quiet, I am aggressive. … He’s the idea man."  

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A comprehensive media campaign targeting local radio, television and even the Internet, Know or Die evolved from a concept – constitutional development – the team chose to discuss, the pair told this newspaper. Organisers of this year’s competition insisted that the students create public awareness campaigns catered to issues affecting St. Maarten society.

The annual panel discussion shifted in focus from simple round-to-round debating to delivering pitches and visually creative awareness campaigns aimed at conveying the importance of constitutional development, culture, education, environment and crime.

Students of five St. Maarten high schools played commercials, printed posters, pamphlets and pins – all to get their message across.

Panel Discussion 2007 winner St. Maarten Academy fought for the "Dare to be Green" campaign, distributing stickers, and posters at the Philipsburg Cultural and Community Centre and scripting a theatrical piece on the island’s worsening environmental situation. But, at 338-329, St. Dominic bested the school that has occupied a comfortable spot in the top two for the past four years.

Students took popular local track "Beat the Monkey," changed the lyrics to "Clean the Island," and danced on stage in full soca form as their closing presentation. It was the third straight time that Academy had received environment as its presentation topic during the random selection process and the second time the team had used music to lock down a position at the top.

Learning Unlimited (LU) Preparatory School rounded off the top three schools with presentations on Education, contending to judges and audience members that educating St. Maarten’s youth is vital to the island’s continued success and survival. LU presenters Girish Motwani and Max Hensley Louis-Juste delivered dynamic, almost preacher-like pitches on education in graduation gowns at a podium that made them seem like preachers at a pulpit.

The other two schools competing were 2007 second-place finisher Milton Peters College (MPC) with presentations on culture and Caribbean International Academy (CIA), which had landed in third place at the event for the last three years, on crime. CIA turned its "Courage against Crime" message into a fundraising race that earned US $1,000 for Ujima juvenile home and plans to continue selling pins to raise money to combat youth criminality on the island.

Organisers of the panel discussion at the government’s Department of Social Cultural Development have tweaked the format of the panel discussion each year since 2006. Each year, the students are challenged more, not only to research their topics, but to persuade judges and the St. Maarten populace creatively that their topic either deserves the most attention or holds the greatest significance to the island.

The pitch is a scripted presentation that requires speaking skills, but judges also rate on creativity of presentations and quality and quickness of responses in the question-and-answer round.