Student Thespians Recognized in Week Four of “Art Connects”, Riverside County Office of Education’s Virtual Arts Competition

RIVERSIDE – Dozens of students showcased the drama of life in quarantine with original monologues, puppet shows, makeshift costuming, stay-at-home custom set designing, and character casting of siblings, parents, and pets to participate in week four of Art Connects, the Riverside County Office of Education’s virtual student arts competition.

Theatrical performances from nearly 60 students of all ages incorporated the weekly theme “Expressions of Persistence” into their submissions. Imaginative entries included siblings and their wardrobes, pets and their dreams, movie character impressions, and makeshift props with water guns, Lego, flowers, and more.

The first place winner in the 9th-12th grade category was Avery Hansberger, an 11th grade student from John W. North High School in the Riverside Unified School District. He heard about the program in March and targeted the week four theater arts competition. In mid-April, he selected, annotated, rehearsed, and performed a monologue from The Prodigal Son, a play by John Patrick Shanley.

“The arts is something I’ve always been involved in, so it seemed like a natural progression that when we don’t have time to go do shows, I could do something at home,” Avery said.

“Acting is just mirroring reality. It’s important to make the character as real as it can be,” Avery said when describing the character he portrayed in his performance. “I thought, ‘I’m a teenager, I could be troubled.’ It’s about somebody finding his place in the world, and I think that’s something we all can relate to.”

Jack and Josiah Winter, brothers who attend Inspire Charter School, were both honored for the monologue performances they submitted. Fourth grade student, Josiah, earned second place honors in the 3rd-5th Grade Category while younger brother, Jack, a second grade student, received a first place award in the TK-2nd Grade Category for his original composition and monologue about bringing hope to his mother.

“I put it together and my mom helped me a little bit by writing it out for me. The hardest part was remembering to take pauses because I can never remember to take pauses,” Jack said. “I thought that I would like to try a monologue that would give people hope.”

Jack and Josiah Winter’s mother, Lizette, shared how participating in the Art Connects project led both boys to practice all week. They are both preparing to submit music entries for the final week of Art Connects in early May.

“I thought it would be something nice for the kids to work on—especially when they cannot see friends,” Lizette said. “Thank you for having this program. It has been something really fun for them to work on and a little highlight for them.”

Student submissions came from public, private, charter, and home school locations throughout Riverside County with the following list of 24 winners in four age categories:

TK-2nd Grade Category

1st Place – Jack Winter, Mission Vista Academy, Beaumont USD, 2nd Grade

2nd Place – Isabel Eldred, Castle View Elementary, Riverside USD, 1st Grade

3rd Place – Eleanore Needle, Susan LaVorgna Elementary, Temecula Valley USD, 2nd Grade

Honorable Mention

  • Audrey Lieder, Julian Charter School, Kindergarten
  • Cedar Vis, Mission Vista Academy, Beaumont USD, Kindergarten
  • Kathleen Carr, Bautista Creek Elementary, Hemet USD, 2nd Grade
  • Lana Lieder, Julian Charter School, 1st Grade
  • Mila Locarnini, Tony Tobin Elementary, Temecula Valley USD, Kindergarten

3rd-5th Grade Category

1st Place – Donovyn Locarnini, Tony Tobin Elementary School, Temecula Valley USD, 3rd Grade

2nd Place – Josiah Winter, Mission Vista Academy, Beaumont USD, 4th Grade

3rd Place – Marissa Vargas, Megan Cope Elementary, San Jacinto USD, 5th Grade

Honorable Mention

  • Isabella Williams, Sundance Elementary, Beaumont USD, 5th Grade
  • Kathryn Clayton, Katherine Finchy Elementary, Palm Springs USD, 5th Grade
  • Olivia Sbar, Castle View Elementary, Riverside USD, 4th Grade
  • Roni Vis, Mission Vista Academy, Beaumont USD, 4th Grade

6th-8th Grade Category

1st Place – Owen Russell, Mountain View Elementary, Riverside USD, 6th Grade

2nd Place – Abel Vis, Mission Vista Academy, Beaumont USD, 6th Grade

3rd Place – Shae Konrad, Temecula Middle School, Temecula Valley USD, 6th Grade

9th – 12th Grade Category

1st Place – Avery Hansberger, John W. North High School, Riverside USD, 11th Grade

2nd Place – Jaylynn Gulley, Rancho Verde High School, Val Verde USD, 9th Grade

3rd Place – Xuan-Anh Biggs, Polytechnic High School, Riverside USD, 9th Grade

Honorable Mention

  • Ashlee Fortenbach, Rancho Mirage High School, Palm Springs USD, 12th Grade
  • Julianna Esparza, Blessed Sacrament Academy, Independent Homeschool, 10th Grade
  • Wendy Hardy, Eleanor Roosevelt High School, Corona-Norco USD, 10th 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 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