Following this holiday weekend, teachers are in for a tough time: holding their students' attention through the last day of school.

Utah's two largest school districts, Granite and Jordan, are reminding principals and teachers to make education meaningful through the ring of the final bell.

But what seems like the obvious can feel more like a tall order this time of year.

Sunny days signal play time. Teachers check in books sometimes more than a week before the school year ends. And in some schools, seniors graduate days before the official school calendar runs out.

"Mostly, it's just a psychological thing for kids," said Chris Sorensen, director of elementary education for Nebo School District. "It's summer. It's time to put on their shorts and swimming suits and go to water parks."

Nebo is among 13 Utah school districts to wrap things up before Memorial Day weekend, the outdoor enthusiasts' official kickoff to summer.

Sixteen school districts, including Alpine, Provo and Wasatch, will hold classes through the next week.

And 11, including those in the populous Salt Lake, Davis and Weber counties, won't let out until the first week of June — or later. Salt Lake City and Park City school districts let out June 12 and June 13, respectively.

But even with the early-out, it's uncertain whether Nebo has it any easier than other districts in terms of spring fever.

Kids there, like anywhere else statewide, know it's the end of the year. And that's a time marked in several districts with field day, Lagoon days and yearbook signings that make little ones and teens alike a little antsy.

Nebo kids have been restless in the past week, as temperatures climbed to the 90-degree mark.

Sunshine and activities are only part of the picture.

Often, teachers collect textbooks the week, or even the week before, school ends.

That bothers some parents.

Legislators at Wednesday's Education Interim Committee meeting alluded to phone calls that come every year around this time, when Mom and Dad question whether true learning is going on when their teen's math book was checked in days ago.

Book check-ins have much to do with logistics, teachers say.

Teacher contracts run out the minute school ends, so they wouldn't be paid to stay after and sort through books, grading and other tasks. Even if they did, some say collecting books on the last day still wouldn't work.

"Those books are very expensive, and just try to get (them) from the kids if they say they don't have (them)," Salt Lake Teachers Association President Elaine Tzourtzouklis said.

Some schools also graduate students as many as five days before the year ends, mainly because graduation venues such as college event centers are booked, notes Patti Harrington, state associate superintendent for instructional services. That can disrupt school for juniors and sophomores, and the adults trying to teach them.

"Once you pull seniors out . . . that begins to unravel school," Harrington said. "But good teachers and good schools continue to hold classes even in light of that part problem."

Granted, parents annually find examples of their children watching a movie for days or otherwise being allowed to loaf instead of learn.

But that doesn't always happen, Tzourtzouklis said.

Anna Smith, a teacher at Midvale Middle School, where students turned books in Friday, a week and a half before school ends, has a bag of tricks for this time of year.

Some days, kids complete writing assignments outside on the grass.

Others work on individual projects they picked — and signed a contract to complete — a few weeks back, a technique Smith believes gives students more ownership, more excitement, about school in its waning days.

And in the last few days of the school year, students will be expected to complete a final essay. -->

"It's not like they're learning new content. You don't teach a new concept the last two days of school — they won't retain it, they won't learn it, because their minds are somewhere else," Smith said.<

"(But) the learning is more hands on . . . which is actually a better practice than just working out of the book."


E-mail: jtcook@desnews.com