Friday, November 04, 2005

Homeschooled Fil-Am Wins $10,000 In Jeopardy

by: Ruben V. Nepales
Inquirer News Service
Editor's Note: Published on page A1 of the Nov. 4, 2005 issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer

LOS ANGELES, California -- Joseph Henares, a homeschooled Filipino-American boy, recently won a "Back to School" edition of "Jeopardy!" -- America's popular TV quiz show.

The 12-year-old Henares received a cash prize of $10,000 in the competition that involved 15 contestants selected from more than 500 kids all over America.

Joseph emerged the winner after five daily episodes were taped at the Sony Pictures Studios in Culver City, California.

Interviewed by phone and e-mail, Joseph credited his "Jeopardy!" triumph to his "mom, who helped me review different topics that we thought would be on the show, and my dad, who helped me with strategy and taught me how to bid in the Final Jeopardy!"

He is the eldest son of John and Jean Henares, both holders of math degrees from the University of the Philippines in Diliman, Quezon City.

Joseph heard about the nationwide tryouts in various cities for 10-to-12-year-old contestants for the "Back to School" tournament back in the spring, the elder Henares recounted.

"I went to and signed him up online for the tryout in New York City. A few weeks later, I got an e-mail that Joseph was scheduled for his tryout in New York on July 16. Joseph was interviewed, given a 30-question test and participated in a mock 'Jeopardy!' game with other applicants."

Odds of getting in slim

"The odds of getting in were quite slim," said John. About 500 kids were trying out for 15 slots.

On Sept. 12, Joseph was on the “Jeopardy!” set at the Sony Pictures Studios for the taping of the show that was aired on national TV on Oct. 13.

When asked how he felt when he learned he had made it to the final 15, Joseph offered his mother's reaction instead: "My mom jumped up and down and screamed." He added, "All my friends were excited." His father was ecstatic.

John Henares reflected on his career as an actuary who calculates insurance reserve liabilities and does financial reporting when he disclosed how he and Jean prepared Joseph for the quiz show hosted by Alex Trebek.

"We drilled Joseph on how to bid, particularly on 'Final Jeopardy!' We came up with various scenarios covering the what ifs. For example, what if you're in first place with $X, and the second and third placers have $Y and $Z, how much should your final bid be?

"We had about less than a month to prepare. So we brainstormed among ourselves what the likely 'kids' categories would be. We came up with Superheroes, recent kid movies, what's on Disney Channel, Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network, among others.

"Then we determined which among those categories Joseph was weak at, and we did online searches on them. We also had Joseph read the latest issue of the Kids' Almanac," said the elder Henares.

Joseph's main worry

"But actually, knowing the correct responses to whatever categories was the least of Joseph's concerns. He knew that he could get his share of correct responses. What he feared more was whether he could buzz in fast enough to make that knowledge count.

"So we had him watch 'Jeopardy!' and take note of the cadence of Alex Trebek's speech and pretend to signal in as soon as Alex was done reading the question. For practice, Joseph used a fat marker as his signaling button."

Joseph and his siblings, Marian, 10, and John Paul, 8, are schooled at home in Avon, Connecticut, primarily by Jean, who was also an actuary before she quit to become a full-time mother.

The Henareses have a younger daughter, Christina, 3. The Henares couple is part of a growing number of parents in the United States who are educating their kids at home. This trend has resulted in the term "homeschool" being accepted as a word entry in the dictionary.

John Henares credited his son's success to his being an avid reader and his ability to retain knowledge and information about things that he encounters.

"His mom does a good job -- and has great patience -- in quizzing him in preparation for 'Jeopardy!' and other contests. But then, any other non-homeschooling mom could have done just as well."


John explained how he and Jean decided to homeschool Joseph and, eventually, their other children. "Jean met some Catholic parents who homeschool their children," he said.

"She was impressed with their dedication and their testimony of very favorable results that they experienced with their children. She observed first-hand how the children functioned and behaved. The image stuck in her mind. When Joseph reached school age, we decided to give it a try. It hasn't been all that easy but we've managed. We are aided by a good Catholic curriculum that we get from Seton Home Study, a homeschool curriculum provider based in Virginia."

It is rare to hear a 12-year-old say that he wants to be an actuary, but that is what Joseph says he would like to be someday.

John, who was raised by Manuel and Sandra Henares in Bacolod City, worked for two years as an instructor at the UP Math Department. He earned his MS degree in Math-Actuarial Science from the University of Connecticut. A fellow of the Society of Actuaries, John works for Genworth Financial in Windsor, Connecticut.

Jean, the eldest child of Fermin and Florentina Alambra, grew up in La Union province. Like John, she also taught at UP after graduation and earned her MS degree in Math-Actuarial Science from the University of Connecticut.

'Star Wars', Lea fan

Math and academics are just some of the interests of Joseph. He sings, acts and plays the piano. Joseph, Marian and John Paul are members of The Company, a children's theater program based at the University of Hartford. Joseph, who last played Linus in The Company's production of "You're A Good Man, Charlie Brown," hopes to meet internationally acclaimed singer-actress Lea Salonga someday.

He also likes to watch the "Star Wars" (the reason he welcomed questions on this film series in "Jeopardy!") and "Lord of the Rings" movies, play soccer and tennis and join chess tournaments, where he has won trophies.

The young Henares had joined other similar contests before, including the Spelling Bee, Geography Bee and American Math Competition.

"I've been the top scorer in the Connecticut Homeschool Network American Math Competition for two years. Last year, I was second in the school level Spelling Bee of the Woodbury Homeschool Group. I was also in the top 10 for the Geography Bee in the state of Connecticut," he said.

Joseph plans to spend some of his cash prize on computer games but he will save most of it to help pay for his college tuition.

Trebek might see a lot of Joseph as this whiz kid grows up. Joseph declared, "I would like to join the teen version, then the college version, before finally moving on to the adult 'Jeopardy!'"

(Ruben V. Nepales is a correspondent in Los Angeles for the Philippine Daily Inquirer)


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