California Arts Council

State of California

Press Release Detail

October 16, 2008Mary Beth Barber

Background Information: Poetry Out Loud's Roshawnda Bettencourt

California Poetry Out Loud 2008 Winner

Roshawnda Bettencourt

Placer County student Roshawnda Bettencourt of Oakmont High School took first place in the highly competitive California Poetry Out Loud state finals in 2008 and competed in the national competition in Washington, D.C. on April 27-29. This year marks the third time the California Arts Council has produced the Poetry Out Loud competition, a contest that encourages high school students to learn about poetry through memorization, performance, and competition of classic poetry. The program was started by the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and the Poetry Foundation, and is fulfilled in the states by the state arts agencies. Local arts agencies and school districts implement the program on the county level.

"I was astounded, not only at the savvy choice of poems that each competitor chose, but at the emotional maturity and poise these students exhibited today," said California Arts Council Vice Chair Malissa Feruzzi Shriver and a judge in 2008 state finals for California Poetry Out Loud. "Not only were these pieces performed well, but the students understood them deeply, on a truly profound and emotional level. They were all so fantastic it was almost impossible to be a judge."

Roshawnda, now attending Sacramento State University, was a senior at Oakmont High School in Roseville (Placer County) when she won. She had been actively involved in acting and theater since her sophomore year, and was on the "Comedy Sports Team," Oakmont's improv comedy group connected to the school's theater department. She also played basketball (team captain in 2007-08) and competed in track and field (specializing in the high jump, long jump and triple jump).

She got involved in Poetry Out Loud when her sophomore English teacher and her theater arts teacher (Judy Geduldig and Samantha Howard, respectively) encouraged her to explore applying her theatrical talents to poetry. She says that after the county finals she started working with both her teachers and established mentors from California Poets in the Schools. "I got a much better understanding of the poetry after the county finals and with the coaching from everyone."

Roshawnda says that the Poetry Out Loud competition gave her the ability to stretch her theater chops in a different way. "I love being on stage in front of an audience and getting them to listen to you with the poetry. I really liked getting into people's minds and embodying somebody new and make an audience think."

She plans to continue with both theater and sports in the future. "I want to make some kind of difference in people's lives, and be happy doing it," she said. "I just don't know what that will be yet."

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To find out more about Roshawnda, contact Mary Beth Barber, communications director of the California Arts Council, at 916-322-6588 or School administrators, teachers and local arts organizations interested in implementing the Poetry Out Loud program may contact Kristin Margolis, literary arts administrator for the California Arts Council, at 916-322-6391 or More information on California's Poetry Out Loud program and links to the national program may be found on the California Arts Council website at

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