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The Deseret News-KSL Sterling Scholar Awards program, recognized nationally as well as locally for its contribution in promoting scholastic excellence of Utah's high school seniors, marks more than three decades of service to education.

The program, started in Salt Lake and Davis counties in 1962, now includes all 46 public high schools along the Wasatch Front from Sky View at Smithfield in the north to Payson High School in the south.Students honored in this special section - more than 500 of them - will meet judges for preliminary judging in three regional sites at Bonneville, Cottonwood and Hillcrest high schools Wednesday afternoon.

Following the study of student portfolios, interviews with the nominees, and considerable deliberation, the judges will select five finalists from each category. These finalists will be announced in Thursday's Deseret News.

All finalists are invited to final judging April 1 in Salt Lake City.

At that time three judges are assigned in each category and the task of selecting a winner and two runners-up begins.

However, the top students will not be disclosed until the night of the televised ceremony April 8 at 7 p.m. on KSL-TV, channel 5, from Cottonwood High School.

Following the ceremony, parents and friends may congratulate the students during a reception in the foyer area of the high school.

Since that first program 30 years ago, public school districts in all 29 counties of Utah participate in one of five regional programs for a total of 95 schools.

These "satellite" programs, organized and directed by their own committees while following the same guidelines, include central, northeast, southeast and southwest Utah.

By conducting competition involving hundreds of outstanding seniors and presenting cash and tuition awards, the program commends and encourages excellence among all students.

Nominees are judged equally on the basis of scholastic achievement without regard to religion, sex, political preference or national origin.

Nationally, the Deseret News has been cited several years by Editor & Publisher Magazine for its service to the community through the Sterling Scholar Awards program.

In addition, the Utah State Office of Education passed a resolution commending the Sterling Scholar program and offered its support of the program and encouraged eligible schools to give students an opportunity to participate.

In addition, the resolution stated:

"The program focuses upon a vital aspect of the school program - scholarship - and encourages healthy competition among those involved in such a way as to reward excellence.

"The recognition that high school students attain from participation in the program encourages them and others to improve their scholarship. The program is conducted in a highly professional manner by those who represent the sponsors and those who judge the quality of the student work."

Students are judged in various categories, including English, speech/drama, mathematics, social science, science, foreign language, visual arts, industrial education, homemaking, business education and music.

Judging is based on scholarship, leadership, citizenship and character as demonstrated through activity and interest in the particular category selected. A twelfth category - general scholarship - was organized for students who have shown outstanding scholastic achievement in all subjects during their school years.

Program officials recognize that some categories could be divided or others added to meet specific areas of study. However, they feel that such a move would dilute the prestige of the Sterling Scholar Awards to a point of insignificance.

Much of the judging is based on "portfolios" prepared by each nominee. By following specific guidelines, students compile basic entry blanks and then add supporting material to show scholarship, leadership and citizenship.

However, program officials emphasize that the portfolio is not to be a "scrapbook" but rather a carefully selected compilation of material, including lists of awards, recognition and achievements.