Last year McKee Middle School eighth grader Bree Goessman participated in the county Oral Language Festival and took home the bronze, but it wasn't quite like this.
This year she practiced her humorous piece "My Blankie" in front of a mirror, her teacher coached her over Zoom and when the time came for the county competition, her dad filmed her against a blank wall at home. She worried the virtual competition might give an edge to her crowd-shy competitors, so she gave it her all in her final performance.
"I know some people don't like performing in front of an audience," she said. "So I was 10 times more dramatic."
What she did paid off, and this weekend it was announced that Goessman would be taking home the first place trophy for the humorous interpretation solo category.
Her mom Candy Goessman said it's important for her daughter to be able to grow academically and have these moments of normalcy throughout the year.
"As a parent, I was excited that they were still able to do this," she said. "We'll pick up the trophy when the time comes, but we really appreciate what they've done."
Every year elementary school districts send in their top contenders to perform their interpretations of serious or humorous speeches to the county level to compete. In a typical year, competitors would get to compete in front of one another and right in front of their judges. This year no one except judges saw the entrants' videos.
Panama-Buena Vista Union School District made a strong showing taking home 11 trophies; Reagan Elementary was responsible for five of those. One was a first-place finish for verse-choir, a tricky category in the middle of a pandemic since it requires more than two students to practice speaking in unison.
Greenfield Union School District punched above its weight and placed in six categories. Raelena Dominguez, an academic coach at Horizon Elementary, said the district pushed students to consider getting involved in extracurricular events like the Oral Language Festival and science fair.
Dominguez worked as one of the district's three site coordinators for oral language. They weren't even sure if it would come together. But when it did, the students and staff who served as coaches stepped up.
"They worked ceaselessly with them outside of their instruction time," said Dominguez.
Many of the students in the south Bakersfield school district struggled this year, but the educators felt that it was important their students have an outlet for self-expression and a chance to show off their talents in a countywide competition.
"They're in all sorts of different situations," she said. "They still persevere."