Student Dancers Recognized in Week Three of “Art Connects” Virtual Student Arts Competition

RIVERSIDE – Couches, chairs, coffee tables, and cars were on the move last week at many homes across Riverside County as family rooms, dining rooms, backyards, garages, driveways, and bedrooms were temporarily converted into dance studios for students who participated in week three of Art Connects, the Riverside County Office of Education’s virtual student arts competition.

Recordings of dances from 76 students of all ages included props, costumes, and culturally diverse dances from Mexico, India, Hawaii, and other choreographed connections to the theme, “Expressions of Kindness.”

The first place winners shared about their experience participating in the competition and how dancing is helping them during school closures and stay-at-home orders.

“Dancing is an activity that I have been doing since I was one-and-a-half years old, and I do it all the time because it makes me happy,” said Harlie Granger, 1st place winner in the TK-2nd grade division and a 2nd grade student from Freedom Crest Elementary School in the Menifee Union School District. “My mom told me about the competition and it sounded fun, so I took some of the moves that I learned from my dance teacher and put them together with some of my own.”

“Sometimes when I’m bored, dancing is something that refreshes my mind and calms me down,” said Ankitha Garuadapuri, 1st place winner in the 3rd-5th grade division and a 3rd grade student at Clara Barton Elementary School in the Corona-Norco Unified School District. “The songs I chose represent Sankranti, an Indian festival that includes dancing, flying kites, and drawing with colored chalk. The music is related to kindness because the purpose of the song is to invite everybody to participate in Sankranti together.”

“When I’m doing choreography for a song, I listen to the song again and again, think about how my body moves, and then figure out how it will all work together,” said Zelia Miller, 1st place winner in the 6th-8th grade division and an 8th grade student from Vista Heights Middle School in the Moreno Valley Unified School District. “When people watch my dance performance, I hope that they will be more positive about the situation in our world, and they will remember to be kind to people no matter what’s happening.”

“I’ve already missed 5-6 dance events during the closure and thought this competition might be a good thing to try,” said Christina Crocker, 1st place winner in the 9th-12 grade division and an 11th grade student at Santiago High School in the Corona-Norco Unified School District. “I chose to dance to the song ‘Stand By Me’ because it really correlates with the times because not a single person is going through this alone.”

Student submissions came from public, private, charter, and home school locations throughout Riverside County with the following list of 30 winners in four age categories:

TK-2nd Grade Category

1st Place – Harlie Granger, Freedom Crest Elementary, Menifee Union SD, 2nd Grade

2nd Place – Levi Lang-Browne, Harvest Hill STEAM Academy, Menifee Union SD, Kindergarten

3rd Place – Natalie Festa, Central Elementary, Banning USD, 1st Grade

Honorable Mention

  • Audrey Lieder, Julian Charter home school/Bautista Creek Elementary, Hemet USD, Kindergarten
  • Cedar Vis, Mission Vista Academy, Beaumont USD, Kindergarten
  • Isabella Favela, Mission Vista Academy, Beaumont USD, 2nd Grade
  • River Moll, Gerald Ford Elementary, Desert Sands USD, Kindergarten
  • William Hsu, Northridge Elementary, Moreno Valley USD, 2nd Grade

3rd-5th Grade Category

1st Place – Ankitha Garuadapuri, Clara Barton Elementary, Corona-Norco USD, 3rd Grade

2nd Place – Olivia Sbar, Castleview Elementary, Riverside USD, 4th Grade

3rd Place – Gulmehr Contractor, George Washington Charter, Desert Sands USD, 4th Grade

Honorable Mention

  • Alice Steepleton, George Washington Charter, Desert Sands USD, 3rd Grade
  • Clover Valverde, Cabot Yerxa Elementary, Palm Springs USD, 5th Grade
  • Isabella Arizpe, Donald Graham Elementary – Student, Lake Elsinore USD, 4th Grade
  • Isabella Williams, Sundance Elementary, Beaumont USD, 5th Grade
  • Makenna Campbell, Vista del Monte Elementary, Palm Springs USD, 3rd Grade

6th-8th Grade Category

1st Place – Zelia Miller, Vista Heights Middle, Moreno Valley USD, 8th Grade

2nd Place – Kayla Jensen, Amelia Earhart Middle, Riverside USD, 7th Grade

3rd Place – Jessica Holley, Highland Academy Charter, Beaumont USD, 7th Grade

Honorable Mention

  • Anthony Marlow, Santa Rosa Academy, Menifee Union SD, 6th Grade
  • Rachel Holley, Highland Academy Charter, Beaumont USD, 8th Grade
  • Violet Moll, John Glenn Middle, Desert Sands USD, 6th Grade

9th – 12th Grade Category

1st Place – Christina Crocker, Santiago High School, Corona-Norco USD, 11th Grade

2nd Place – Carissa Hobbs, Murrieta Mesa High School, Murrieta Valley USD, 12th Grade

3rd Place – Gianna Williams, Santiago High School, Corona-Norco USD, 9th Grade

Honorable Mention

  • Dimple Amitha Garuadapuri, Eleanor Roosevelt High School, Corona-Norco USD, 10th Grade
  • Nicole Salazar, Palm Desert High School, Desert Sands USD, 11th Grade
  • Sara Habibipour, Palm Valley School, Independent Private School, 10th Grade
  • Twila Fraser-Hewlett, Polytechnic High School, Riverside USD, 9th Grade
  • Yulia Ramirez, La Sierra High School, Alvord USD, 12th Grade

About Art Connects

In an effort to help students channel their creativity during mandatory school closures due to COVID-19, the Riverside County Office of Education launched Art Connects on March 24th as a virtual student arts competition open to all students in transitional kindergarten through 12th grade in Riverside County.

“Despite the closure of schools, students in Riverside County are continuing to create, dream, and express their ideas through their own unique talents and abilities,” said Riverside County Superintendent of Schools, Dr. Judy D. White at the launch of the program. “Artistic expression is a healthy way for students to process their feelings, exercise their creative abilities, and expand their understanding of a changing world. These expressions have the power to uplift others and bring meaning to their life and the lives of others during challenging times.”

The competition is open to all students in grades TK-12 attending public, charter, private, parochial, or home school programs in Riverside County. For each of the six weeks, students can submit their contributions on the Art Connects web page.

Winners will be announced in each grade level category approximately one week after the submission deadline for each week’s competition.

  • 1st place award: $75 gift card from RCOE Foundation, plaque, and certificate of participation
  • 2nd place award: $50 gift card from RCOE Foundation, and certificate of participation
  • 3rd place award: $25 gift card from RCOE Foundation, and certificate of participation
  • Honorable mention: Certificate of participation

“The roster of distinguished judges looking to support student artists includes Riverside County artists, poets, choreographers, actors, writers, educators, filmmakers, and musicians,” said Riverside County Arts Administrator, Louisa Higgins. “Judging criteria will include creativity/originality, connection to the weekly theme, artistic composition, and overall impression.”

Art Connects Competition and Submission Schedule

  • Week Three (April 8-14):
    • Medium: Dance
    • Theme: Expressions of Kindness
  • Week Four (April 15-21):
    • Medium: Theater
    • Theme: Expressions of Persistence
  • Week Five (April 22-28):
    • Medium: Media Arts
    • Theme: Expressions of Connections
  • Week Six (April 29 – May 5):
    • Medium: Music
    • Theme: Expressions of Hope

Additional details on Art Connects are available on the Art Connects web page or by contacting Louisa Higgins at