Richmond student Denica Garcia has been exercising her poetic skills in different venues for some time and on Feb. 11 was awarded first place in the countywide "Poetry Out Loud."

The Salesian High School senior's recitation of Ted Kooser's "Abandoned Farmhouse" before a large audience at the Willows Theatre in Concord was awarded the top spot over runner-up Savannah Ridgley, a senior from Mt. Diablo High in Concord, and third-place finisher Christine Osiuwhu, a junior from Deer Valley High in Antioch.

Students from 11 Contra Costa high schools -- including Making Waves Academy, Richmond High and Salesian High in Richmond -- entered the fifth annual competition.

Similar competitions were held throughout California as part of a nationwide recitation contest started by the National Endowment for the Arts.

The goal of the Poetry Out Loud program is "to foster the next generation of literary readers by capitalizing on the latest trends in poetry: recitation and performance."

More than 2,000 students memorized a poem for the Contra Costa competition, overseen by the county Arts and Culture Commission.

Garcia was a featured poet in the Blossoms and Thorns exhibit at the Richmond Art Center and an honored entrant in the annual Richmond Writes! competition in 2011. She now advances to the state finals in Sacramento March 25 and 26.


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Learn more about the program at www.cac.ca.gov and www.poetryoutloud.org.

INNOVATIVE CLASSROOMS DAY: A consortium of companies and foundations are helping to bring elementary school students in the John Swett Unified School District into the digital age.

Rodeo Hills, the only elementary school in the small district serving Crockett and Rodeo, now has three "Innovative Classrooms," each equipped with a Promethean Interactive Board (an electronic projection version of a whiteboard), 15 student computers and a teacher document camera and laptop.

The modern facilities were unveiled Feb. 2 at Innovative Classrooms Day, a celebration of the new technological additions and the partnership that made them happen.

With limited resources, the Swett district turned to the partnership to raise more than $60,000 during the past two years to provide the school and its students with the technology needed to keep pace.

Several companies and groups attended the unveiling, including the city of Hercules, NuStar Energy, Conoco Phillips Refinery, and the John Swett Education Foundation.

LAW ENFORCEMENT NIGHT: An officer from every police agency serving West County will be honored at the 13th annual Law Enforcement Night at the Richmond Elks Lodge, 3931 San Pablo Dam Road in El Sobrante, on Wednesday.

The lodge hosts the event to highlight the work of officers whose contributions might otherwise go unrecognized.

This year's honorees are Officers Terry Schillinger (El Cerrito), Joe Vasquez (Hercules), Doug Wilson (Kensington) and Mike Pistello (Pinole); and detectives Eduardo Soto (Richmond), Shawn Ray (San Pablo) and Dave Adams (Contra Costa Sheriff's Department.

Contra Costa County Sheriff David Langston will be the keynote speaker.

The public is invited to attend, but seating is limited. For reservations call Bob Ostini at 510-326-0844.

SOROPTIMIST SPEAKER SERIES: The third annual Every Woman Has A Story series, hosted by Soroptimist International of El Cerrito presents award-winning speaker Angela Mason, a human rights advocate for women and children in a talk from 7 to 8:30 p.m. Feb. 25 at Northbrae Community Church, 941 The Alameda in Berkeley.

Mason recently returned from a journey to the Congo, Sierra Leone, and Bangladesh "where she met with young girls who had been raped, tortured and sold either into prostitution or abandoned by war-ravaged families struggling to survive."

Her topic will be "Finding hope in impossible places in the world" and she will describe her visits to prisons, brothels, and sweat shops where children are abused and exploited and the challenges and resistance she met getting there.

"Although her stories are heart-wrenching, she manages to sprinkle them with humor and hope," appearance organizers say. "Come listen and prepare to laugh, to cry, to be inspired and encouraged."

Tickets are $20 adults, $5 students with valid ID. The event includes refreshments and wine.

For tickets or details contact Lu Tipping at 510-812-5411 or lu.tipping@gmail.com or visit www.sielcerrito.org.

Contact Chris Treadway at 510-262-2784 or ctreadway@bayareanewsgroup.com. Follow him at Twitter.com/christreadway. Stay up-to-date on West Contra Costa news at IBABuzz.com/westcounty.