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National poetry program provides students opportunity

In recognition of “artistic prowess in pursuit of the fine artsread the certificates the Poetry Out Loud champions were awarded March 11 by the California Arts Council. For Indian Valley Academy junior, Diego Garcia-Couoh, it was a great boost in confidence.

On March 10 and 11, as 52 students representing counties across California — including Plumas County — met in the state capitol for the 14th annual Poetry Out Loud competition. It was the third year Plumas County has participated in the competition, which offers high school students a chance to represent the state at the national oral recitation competition and to compete for various cash prizes and scholarships.

The students were to memorize three poems from the website poetryoutloud.org which houses thousands of poems by mostly American poets and recite them before a panel of judges (who were also poets).

They competed in two rounds of two heats — divided between 26 northern counties in the morning and 26 southern counties in the afternoon at the state library and court building adjacent to the state capitol.

The highest scoring eight from each heat went on to a final round on Monday morning in the assembly chamber. All county champions, as they are called, also participated in a group recitation poem on the floor of the state assembly and were rewarded certificates of recognition by the California Arts Council for representing their counties.

They also sat in the assembly members’ seats.

Garcia-Couoh represented Plumas County, having placed first in the Jan. 27 contest at Plumas Arts Gallery. His Sunday morning heat poems were “The Poisoning Tree” by William Blake and “The Film” by Kate Northrop. Garcia-Couoh completed the heat without advancing to the final round.

Competition was stiff — most urban centers had held many contests to narrow down hundreds of potential students.

Students were judged on accuracy, presentation, interpretation and delivery. Many of the county champions at the competition came from a theatre background.

The winner, Lily Bogas, the Marin County champion from Tamalpais High School, will represent California at the national competition in April.

But rural northern Californian counties like Del Norte fielded a strong representative who made it to the final round.

Del Norte County’s coordinator was singled out for an award for getting the most student buy-in for the competition. She coerced students to get interested in poetry through free pizza parties. The Del Norte representative had a team of six other students behind her who watched the heat and planned to come back next year with an even stronger presence. They even had matching sweatshirts.

Plumas County brought two additional students to watch the competition to get a feel for trying the competition next year.

“I have a better understanding of what I could do for next year,” said Indian Valley Academy student Olivia McIntyre, who was one of the Plumas County students who attended to watch and gather information.

In addition to reciting the poems for the competition, the county champions were treated to a tour of the capitol building and met with their regions’ state assembly representatives.

Garcia-Couoh, along with county champions from other counties in the 1st Assembly District, (Plumas, Lassen, Modoc, Nevada, Shasta, Siskiyou, and Sierra) met with Assemblyman Brian Dahle where he congratulated them for their hard work and perseverance.

By all accounts the students appreciated their trip to the capitol and meeting with their representatives as well as being recognized for artistic achievement.

Each student was asked what the program meant to them — for some like Garcia-Couoh — it was a chance to gain more experience in public speaking and more exposure to poetry.

“I like poetry now and really enjoyed meeting other students with things in common from around the state,” said Garcia-Couoh.

The Merced County champion Hector Tejeda said, “It started off as desire for pizza. That later turned into a desire for more success.”

“The purpose of arts is to tell a story,” said El Dorado champion Paula Rabell. “Poetry Out Loud gives young people the opportunity to experience this sense of creativity that is unique to the arts.”

Poetry Out Loud was founded by former California Poet Laureate Dana Goia. He aimed — along with other like-minded people from the Poetry Foundation — to bring poetry back to American high schools.

Poetry has suffered a backseat designation across the nation from the No Child Left Behind law of 2001 that focused on nonfiction texts over creative works. Multiple educational studies, however, have shown that studying poetry — along with other arts in schools — enhances critical thinking skills, creative thinking and problem solving.

Goia famously wanted to visit and promote poetry in every county in California and has been the only Poet Laureate to take on the ambitious project. He visited Plumas County in 2017. He gave readings and met with local poets in Quincy. He is also a former National Endowment of the Arts director and is credited with “saving” the arts organization and bringing it into the 21st century — with an emphasis on having more arts programs reaching the largest possible audiences outside of typical cities.

Poetry Out Loud — with its outreach and scope reaching equally both rural and urban students and communities in California seems a natural extension of that vision. The California competition is the largest and most competitive in the country. This year’s participation from 52 out of 58 of the state’s counties was the largest competition yet for California.

Poetry Out Loud is managed and funded by the California Arts Council and funded partially by the National Endowment of the Arts and sponsored in part by the national Poetry Foundation and its educational endowment. The California Arts Council partners with local arts organizations to do outreach and to host the competition annually.

Plumas Arts has held the competition for three years at the end of January in the Plumas Arts Gallery and invites all high school students in the county to participate. This year, the Plumas Poetry Out Loud competition was able to offer $1,000 worth of cash prizes to the winners of the contest.

Plumas County high schools that participated this year were Indian Valley Academy, Plumas Charter in Quincy, and Quincy High School. The 2018 county champion was from Quincy High School; the 2017 champion was from Portola High School.

For more information about the 2020 program, teaching curriculum, coaching and classroom visits, contact Roxanne Valladao at Plumas Arts 283-3402. Readers with students or interested students in Lassen, Sierra and Butte counties should contact their county’s arts organizations, which run the local county competitions.

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