Deer Valley High student wins second in 2021 Contra Costa County Poetry Out Loud competition

Esmeralda Noyola’s performance in the 2021 Poetry Out Loud county finals. Video screenshot.

Prospects High School champion also made the finals of the competition

The Arts and Culture Commission announced the winners of the 2021 Poetry Out Loud Contra Costa County and Esmeralda Noyola, the Deer Valley High School champion, won second place in the final competition and was awarded a $150 cash prize. The Facebook Live Virtual Screening and Awards Ceremony was held on February 11th. Her performance was of the poem We Are Not Responsible by Harryette Mullen. (See her introduction and performance at the 23:50 mark of the video)

Jermaine Gitana from Pinole Valley High School was selected the champion of the county finals and awarded a $200 prize and varsity jacket.

“I am a 17-year-old senior at Pinole Valley High who is part Black and Filipino,” said Gitana. “I enjoy playing instruments, making music, swimming, singing, and most of all reciting poetry.”

His performances of the poems Written By Himself by Gregory Pardlo and Piano by D. H. Lawrence proved to be a winning combination! On March 11th, Jermaine will compete in the Poetry Out Loud State Finals where students recite 3 poems. On March 12th, the California State Winner will be announced on California Arts Council email, internet, and social media. We are very proud of Jermaine!

Tessa Brubaker from San Ramon Valley High School placed third and was awarded $100. The County Finals included impressive high school champions Patricia May Villanueva of Prospects High School (Antioch), Michael Miralles of John Henry High School (Richmond), Kyla Erika Nano of Concord High School, and Kaleigh Thurman of College Park High School (Pleasant Hill).

Poetry Out Loud is a national arts education program that encourages the study of poetry by offering free educational materials and a dynamic recitation competition for high school students across the country. This program helps students master public speaking skills, build self-confidence, and learn about literary history and contemporary life. Poetry Out Loud provides free curriculum materials—all available online—including a poetry anthology, a comprehensive teacher’s guide, videos of student performances, lesson plans, and promotional and media resources.

All Contra Costa County high school students, grades 9-12, are invited to enter Poetry Out Loud. School winners advance to the County competition each February, then the State competition on March 11, and ultimately to the National Finals. The 2021 POL National Semifinals will take place on Sunday, May 2nd and the 2021 POL National Finals will take place on Thursday, May 27th and will be held virtually in lieu of holding them on-site in Washington D.C. as previously planned. Both will be video submission-based competitions and will be streamed on

Every high school in the county (public, private, parochial, independent, alternative, continuation, court, charter and home schools), non-profit organizations, and libraries are encouraged to participate. Students don’t enter the POL competition directly, but through their high schools or a school POL liaison such as a teacher, librarian, school staff, or organization member.

“Last August, I became the new Managing Director and was first introduced to the amazing Poetry Out Loud program. Our incredible team of Donté Clark (Poetry Out Loud Coordinator), Brennan DeFrisco (Poetry Out Loud Student Coach and Assistant Coordinator), and Antonio Tamayo (Poetry Out Loud Digital Content and Technical Assistant) worked together to transition the program online,” said Jenny Balisle, Arts and Culture Commission of Contra Costa County Managing Director. “The Virtual Screening and Awards Ceremony was an evening of many firsts for the Arts and Culture Commission: first Facebook Live event for a signature art program, first ASL interpreters for a live virtual event, and first Land Acknowledgement. Despite the pandemic, we were determined to uplift, support, and celebrate Contra Costa County youth! I’m proud of what we accomplished but most of all- very proud of the resilience and grace of our youth.”

To watch the Virtual Screening and Awards Ceremony please visit here.

Poetry Out Loud is funded by the National Endowment for the Arts, Poetry Foundation, California Arts Council, and Arts and Culture Commission of Contra Costa County (AC5).

AC5 is dedicated to advancing the arts in a way that promotes communication, education, appreciation and collaboration throughout Contra Costa County so that we may grow creatively as a community that preserves and celebrates our diverse cultural expression.

Please visit for more information and sign up on our email list. We welcome your participation and hope to see you next year!

Allen Payton contributed to this report.

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