ALAMEDA -- Alameda Poet Laureate Mary Rudge awarded student poets from Alameda schools who participated in a citywide poetry contest.

The student poets ranged in age from elementary school to high school. The Alameda Multicultural Center hosted the April 16 awards ceremony, and program coordinator Zoe Holder presented each winner with an award certificate. Eleven Alameda schools participated in this event, in which 66 students submitted 81 poems.

Students were asked to write a poem on the theme of "My Culture." The variations and level of thought and understanding about the topic were astounding to many parents, teachers and supporters in attendance. Alessadra Zambrano, of St. Joseph Notre Dame, won grand prize for her poem, "La Familia Desconoceda" and served as one of the judges of the contest. The high schools that participated in this event were Alameda High School, Alternatives in Action, Alameda Science and Technology Institute, Encinal High School and St. Joseph Notre Dame. The middle school participation came from Academy of Alameda, Bay Farm Elementary, Lincoln Middle School and Nea Community Learning Center. Elementary participation was from Paden, Nea Community Learning Center and Ruby Bridges.

Olivia Ballestros, of St. Joseph Notre Dame, won first place for her poem, "Ceremony." Millawn Oliver from Alternatives in Action won first honorable mention for his poem, "My Skin."

Siddiqa Nisar, of Nea Community Learning Center, won first place in the middle school category with the poem, "My New Home."

Tariq Johnson and Shamil Youngblood, of Paden Elementary School, won first place for their combined poem, "African Americans."

Victoria Lopez Wilkerson, from Ruby Bridges Elementary won second place for her poem, "Fall Trees," while Luzita Lacayo, also from Ruby Bridges, won third place for her poem "Spring Time." There were a total of 10 honorable mentions for equally well crafted poems, and as Mary Rudge said, "It was extremely difficult for all the judges to decide."

The judging panel included Oscar Penaranda, Dave Holt, Martha DeWitt, Dolly C.W. Fong, Chase Lee, Jaynie Phoenix Lara, Kay Speaks, James M. LeCuyer, Florence Miller and Alexandra Barajos.

During the awards ceremony, Alexandra Barajos was crowned as the student poet laureate of Encinal High School by Natica Angilly, president of Artists Embassy International and director of the Poetic Dance Theater. Many parents, teachers and supporters of these young poets and writers were impressed by their professionalism while reading and their commitment to the art of poetry.