If there is one group that hasn't given up on our youth and teachers, it's the ninth district of Department of California's Veterans of Foreign Wars.Veterans of different wars who dedicate their time and volunteer for great community efforts represent the ninth district, which encompasses most of Kern County.

That's inspiring alone given that these veterans have already given much to this country in the form of their service. This past weekend in Bakersfield, the district honored local students and teachers with special awards for their support of veterans.

Breana Martinez, a Highland High School senior, was honored as the Voice of Democracy winner at the district level. She was nominated from Post 97, VFW Ninth District Cmdr. Wayne Wright said.

The Voice of Democracy is a patriotic audio essay competition open to high school students at the local, district, state and national level of the VFW. Each year, more than 50,000 high school students compete for more than $2.3 million in scholarships and incentives, as part of the competition, according to VFW reports. The competition's theme was "Is our Constitution still relevant?"

In her speech, she wrote: "The Constitution only fails when we fail -- when we are complacent, when we shirk our civic responsibilities when we decide that voting doesn't change anything and nothing matters. It was the spirit of the great men that made this document great to begin with, and it requires the spirit and dedication of a great nation to continue that work."

Wright said nine posts -- five in Bakersfield, one in Frazier Park, one in Maricopa, one in Wasco and one in Arvin -- make up the district. Each post nominated a Voice of Democracy winner to be considered for the district level.

Meanwhile, Kelly Strobel was selected as the district's winner for the Patriot's Pen, which is a youth essay contest open to junior high school students. As part of the competition, students write about their views on democracy.

Strobel is a seventh-grader at Edison Middle School. She was nominated for the district level selection from Post 7216, Wright said.

In her essay, she wrote: "Over the past 250 years, our country has changed in many ways. Our founding fathers would be amazed at all the technology we have today ... The founding fathers shaped our country by providing an example of our government and society, creating what is America today."

Wright said it's pretty inspiring to see what is submitted by students.

"When you sit in the chair I sit in, it's kind of refreshing," said Wright, who is a Vietnam veteran and served 34 years in the Navy.

Sometimes, when it comes to youth, "all you hear is the negative, the bad things," Wright said. "But when you got something like this, you get to see what kids are doing or learning about veterans. They are really good kids. Super kids. The feeling they put into this is heartwarming."

Two local educators were also honored with teacher of the year awards.

At the District 9 high school level, Bakersfield High School history teacher Ken Hooper was nominated for teacher of the year by Post 10859, and the district selected him for the top award as well. Hooper has taken on many volunteer efforts to support and honor those who have served.

"I think Ken has dedicated his whole teaching career to veterans and active-duty (service members)," Wright said. "He got students involved in with all of the research for the Wall of Valor at the Kern Veterans Memorial. He is currently interview World War II veterans and is starting on Korean veterans."

The interviews represent another local history project that Hooper has involved students in, Wright said.

"He's a terrific guy," he added.

Carolyn Barnes was recognized with the junior high school teacher of the year award. Barnes is an Orangewood Elementary School teacher in the Edison school district. She was picked at the Post 1468 winner, went on to earn the district top award and has also been picked as a state winner.

The next stop will be the national competition, Wright said.

Barnes was recommended because of her involvement with the nonprofit Soldiers' Angels (May No Soldier Go Unloved). She has been known to organize care packages for soldiers, and she also involved her students in the efforts by having them write letters to soldiers.

For more information about the local VFW, please contact Wright at 399-2517 or email: wwright1@bak.rr.com.

Kilt Classic

Walkers and runners, mark your calendars for the second annual Kilt Classic 5k run 8 a.m. on March 9 at Highland High School.

Proceeds will benefit the Highland track and field team. Pre-registration is $20 or $15 without a T-shirt, and race-day registration is $25. Coach Steven Montanio says proceeds will go toward purchasing warm-ups, uniforms and new track equipment such as hurdles, starting blocks and hopefully a new runway for long jump and triple jump pits.

He noted that the current warm-ups are five years old and are showing wear. In addition, Montanio says he is looking for sponsors for the event.

For more information, contact Montanio at 872-2777 or email: steven_montanio@kernhigh.org. Visit the calendar section of the bakersfieldtrackclub.com for details about the race.

Olivia Garcia is editor of Bakersfield Life and BWell magazines and a columnist of The Bakersfield Californian. These are her opinions, not necessarily those of The Bakersfield Californian. Send her tips at ogarcia@bakersfield.com

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