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

Video and podcast entries in the category of media arts incorporated the theme
“Expressions of Connections”. Final week of competition closes today with music submissions.

RIVERSIDE – Interviews with socially-distanced stuffed animals, dialogues with physically-distanced family members in India, and depictions of emotionally-distanced teenagers grappling with stay-at-home orders were among the themes of dozens of original videos submitted by students in week five of Art Connects, the Riverside County Office of Education’s virtual student arts competition.

Original video productions from nearly 70 students of all ages incorporated the weekly theme “Expressions of Connections” into their submissions. Imaginative entries included hand-drawn cinematography, paper cut-out characters, stop-motion Lego dramas, animated line art, horseback lassoing demonstrations, and tributes to grandparents isolated in nursing homes.

TK-2nd Grade Category
Mila Locarnini, Kindergarten
Tony Tobin Elementary School
Temecula Valley USD

3rd–5th Grade Category
Olivia Sbar, 4th Grade
Castle View Elementary School
Riverside USD

6th–8th Grade Category
Ben Van Dijk, 8th Grade
Cielo Vista Charter School
Palm Springs USD

9th-12th Grade Category
Serena Pulopot, 11th Grade
Temecula Valley High School
Temecula Valley USD

Meet 1st Place Winner, Ben Van Dijk

The first place winner in the 6th-8th grade category was Ben Van Dijk, an 8th grade student at Cielo Vista Charter School in the Palm Springs Unified School District. In Ben’s video, Childhood, he puts a spotlight on his current stage of life that is connecting his childhood with future adulthood. With extra time in quarantine, he discovered old home videos on VHS and wrote an original script that reflects on the importance and power of childhood—even as the future of becoming an adult looms in the near future.

“I have always been mindful that childhood is such a small part of your life. You’re only a child for a teeny bit of your life. For the rest, you’re an adult,” Ben said. “Those thoughts about childhood have always been in my head. Even before the video, I’d always been thinking about it. I’ve always been a sucker for nostalgia. Even looking at stuffed animals reminds me of my young childhood.”

Ben’s thoughtful coming-of-age production had an effect on his whole family.

“It was really great going through old videos and photos and spending that time with both of my kids and having the time to relive those memories,” said Ben’s mother, Cara Van Dijk, who helped Ben extract footage from an old iPod, VHS tapes, DVDs, and the family computer so he could edit them together. “I got teary-eyed for sure. It’s really special. Even his dad and older sister got teary-eyed.”

Meet 1st Place Winner, Olivia Sbar

Olivia Sbar first heard about Art Connects on her school’s website.

“I saw all these competitions and they looked really fun. I wanted to do every single one. It has helped me get out of bed and be really excited each day,” Olivia shared. “It has helped be more creative and put myself out there because I’m normally really shy.”

The fourth grade student from Castle View Elementary School in the Riverside Unified School District learned how to edit videos in order to participate in the competition. Olivia’s winning video submission, which took her nearly six hours, focuses on the power of connections. In the production, Olivia interviews a stuffed animal—a llama that is forced to social distance from his other friends.

“The llama had to be in different boxes than all the other stuffed animals because I wanted to connect it to the times we’re all in since we all can’t be close together,” Olivia said.

Olivia misses her school, her friends, and her teachers. Her career goal is to be a teacher.

“I like teaching people—especially special needs kids,” Olivia said. “I learned it from my granny. She has been a teacher for special needs kids for 30 years and she always says to put love in your heart.”

Student submissions came from public, private, charter, and home school locations throughout Riverside County with the following list of 26 winners in four age categories:

TK-2nd Grade Category

1st Place – Mila Locarnini, Tony Tobin Elementary School, Temecula Valley USD, Kindergarten

2nd Place – Kathleen Carr, Bautista Creek Elementary School, Hemet USD, 2nd Grade

3rd Place – River Moll, Gerald Ford Elementary School, Desert Sands USD, Kindergarten

Honorable Mention

  • Sascha Hubler, Rio Vista Elementary School, Palm Springs USD, 2nd Grade
  • Yajvin Meenavalli, Del Sol Academy, Jurupa USD, 2nd Grade

3rd-5th Grade Category

1st Place – Olivia Sbar, Castle View Elementary School, Riverside USD, 4th Grade

2nd Place – Eliana Dodyk, Ysabel Barnett Elementary School, Temecula Valley USD, 4th Grade

3rd Place – Roni Vis, Mission Vista Academy (of Inspire Charter School), Beaumont USD, 4th Grade

Honorable Mention

  • Ankitha Garuadapuri, Clara Barton Elementary School, Corona-Norco USD, 3rd Grade
  • Charlotte Rivera, Vintage Hills Elementary School, Temecula Valley USD, 3rd Grade
  • Donovyn Locarnini, Tony Tobin Elementary School, Temecula Valley USD, 3rd Grade

6th-8th Grade Category

1st Place – Ben Van Dijk, Cielo Vista Charter School, Palm Springs USD, 8th Grade

2nd Place – Joaquin Perez, Dr. Augustine Ramirez Intermediate School, Corona-Norco USD, 8th Grade

3rd Place – Alyssa Lomenick, Bear River Charter School-Bear River Student Center, Springs Charter School, 7th Grade

Honorable Mention

  • Ayden Poleynard, Mission Vista Academy, Beaumont USD, 7th Grade
  • Nathan Poleynard, Mission Vista Academy, Beaumont USD, 7th Grade

9th-12th Grade Category

1st Place – Serena Pulopot, Temecula Valley High School, Temecula Valley USD, 11th Grade

2nd Place – Julianna Esparza, Blessed Sacrament Academy, Family Independent Homeschool, 10th Grade

3rd Place– Isabella Marie Medici, Temecula Valley High School, Temecula Valley USD, 9th Grade

Honorable Mention

  • Dimple Amitha Garuadapuri, Eleanor Roosevelt High School, Corona-Norco USD, 10th Grade
  • Alejandro Martinez, Centennial High School, Corona-Norco USD, 11th Grade
  • Alexander Grauel, Cathedral City High School, Palm Springs USD, 11th Grade
  • Summer McRae, La Quinta High School, Desert Sands USD, 11th Grade
  • Ethan Capreece, Great Oak High School, Temecula Valley USD, 12th Grade
  • Jadyn Gomberg, Santiago High School, Corona-Norco USD, 12th Grade
  • Ethan Beck, Moreno Valley High School, Moreno Valley USD, 11th 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 at

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 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 at or by contacting Louisa Higgins at