LAYTON — In 1996, Jenny McKenna was the Sterling Scholar in English at Park City High School. At the time, McKenna thought it was a good way to get into college but nothing more.
Now an English teacher at Ben Lomond High School who helps Sterling Scholars from her school prepare their portfolios, McKenna thinks very differently about the program.
"The best part about it is having them put their creativity into words and tell about themselves with a story and with pages," she said. "By the time they're seniors, they have read everyone else's stories and everyone else's poems, but few of them have read their own stories, or realized they're characters in a story."
McKenna's students gathered with students from high schools all over the state at Northridge High School Wednesday for the Sterling Scholar regional judging. Candidates in 13 categories ranging from family and consumer science to mathematics were judged at Northridge, Copper Hills in West Jordan and Mountain View High School in Orem.
After Wednesday's round of competing and interviewing at the regional sites, 195 of the students will be selected as state finalists and will advance to the final judging on March 3.
But Kent Smith, former president and founder of Heritage Festivals and a Sterling Scholar music judge for the past seven years, said winning isn't nearly as important as the experience.
"It's a fabulous experience," Smith said. "Some kids are at a higher level than others, but they are all so talented. That doesn't happen by accident."
Kate Howard, Sterling Scholar of visual arts from Bear River High School, developed her talents by carrying around notebooks to draw and sketch everything ever since she was a child. Dani Staples worked after school at a day care before being selected as Viewmont's family and consumer science Sterling Scholar. Other students spent years dancing and singing to get here. One even played the bagpipes.
Regardless of their talents, students from every category agreed this experience was one that had taught them about themselves and given them an extra push to succeed.
"This has taught me about my strengths," said Valerie Anderson. "Having to write down all that you've done, it helps you realize what you're capable of."