A writing and art contest designed to capture the contributions of farmworkers over the years resulted in 18 local youth winning an award for their submitted work.
In the high school art category, the first place winner was Brenda Cervantes of Delano High School, followed by Josh Cruz of McFarland High School and Reggie Casabar of Cesar Chavez High School.
In the high school poetry section, Katrina Quiroz of Paramount Bard Academy received first place while second and third went to Paul Salgado of Delano High School and Raul Fierro of Tierra del Sol.
As part of the high school essay competition, Kristan Sigler of Highland High School took first place. Second place was Cesar Aleman of West High School and Carmela Garcia of Cesar Chavez High School was third.
Xocthil Morales of Paramount Bard Academy received the Jack Brigham Musical Scholarship Award.
In the middle school art category, Javier Soto Gonzales of South High School was honored with first place while Sonia Holguin of McFarland High School and Lizzeth Hernandez of Paramount Bard Academy placed second and third.
In the middle school poetry category, Karisia Gonzales of Nueva Vista Academy received first place while Yasmin Marcelo and Kylie Melendez, both of Fruitvale Junior High School, placed second and third, respectively.
In the middle school essay competition, the first place winner was Karen Escobar of Emerson Middle School while Natasha Bramer of Fruitvale took second and Paola Rios of Compton took third.
The idea of a competition developed last year when the United Farm Workers celebrated its 50th anniversary in Bakersfield. An ad-hoc group of local citizens joined together to create an art and writing competition for middle school and high school students in Kern County that would "focus on the legacy of the farmworker in the San Joaquin Valley," said Ray Gonzales, a former state Assemblyman, who, along with retired educator John Hefner and Kern County Superior Court Judge Robert Tafoya, coordinated the project.
"Agriculture is the lifeblood of the San Joaquin Valley," Gonzales said. "It is important that the youth of this valley recognize that and also focus on the important role played by those who have labored in the fields over the years.
"From the Dust Bowl Era to the emergence of the Farm Labor Movement, there is much history here to be proud of. We hope this competition is just a beginning in having valley youth become aware of that history."
Looks like it will.
The contest's first run proved successful as more than 60 entries from 14 different schools in the county were entered.
Gonzales said the judges of media and artistic backgrounds reviewed the work and selected the winners. (Full disclosure, I had the opportunity to judge some of the categories, and I was beyond impressed by the quality of artistic and writing talent and thinking abilities of these young contestants.)
Gonzales praised area high schools, middle schools, junior highs, and private academies for participating. Part of the project's focus is educational, added Tafoya.
"Our children need to develop writing skills, and we need to nurture their creativity," Tafoya said. "Without strong writing skills, our students' future prospects are limited at best. Developing critical thinking skills goes hand in hand with good writing. On a weekly basis, I estimate at least 50 percent of law violators who appear before me are high school dropouts."
Tafoya said the competition would not have been possible without the financial support of individuals and organizations, such as Wells Fargo, Rabobank, Kern County Superintendent Christine Lizardi Frazier, retired Bakersfield College professor Jack Brigham, Bakersfield Mayor Harvey Hall, Senator Jean Fuller and Kern Community College District Chancellor Sandra Serrano.
Together, they contributed $3,600 for prize money that was award to the winners: $200 for first place winners at the high school level and $150 for middle school winners, with lesser amounts given to second and third winners and runner-ups.
"The idea of this competition is for the schools to collaborate with the private sector; the private sector raises prize money and sets the ground rules and the theme; and the schools recruit students and helps them produce quality work," Tafoya explained. "Our future, as a country, is directly related to how well our children are prepared to meet life's challenges. We should not allocate the responsibility of preparing our children exclusively to the schools. It takes a village to raise a child."
And since we are talking about youth, a nod goes to Kaiser Permanente's Hippocrates Circle Program, which works with 45 students of Sierra Middle School by giving them an inside view of what it's like to be a physician or medical provider, according to Kristin Weber, a Kaiser senior community benefit specialist.
As part of the program, the students will meet physicians and nursing students who will share their own experiences and academic preparation.
According to Weber, students will learn how to cast an arm, use the laser that treats patients after cataract surgery, read an X-ray, and "observe a laryngoscopy, which will show students what the vocal cords look like inside a person," among other activities.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org