Spring is an exciting time for thousands of Utah students as they participate in major educational programs sponsored by the Deseret News.

Youngsters in fourth through eighth grades are sharpening their spelling skills in preparation for traditional miss-and-you're-out spelling bees.And in high schools, hundreds of seniors are putting the final touches on portfolios and honing their talents in categories such as English, mathematics, social science, science and foreign languages - to name just a few - in preparation for Sterling Scholar judging next month.

On the spelling front, the competition is a climax to a yearlong spelling improvement program sponsored in Utah by this newspaper. The Deseret News is one of more than 220 sponsoring newspapers participating in the Scripps Howard National Spelling Bee that involves millions of youngsters nationwide.

After studying words provided by the newspaper since October, the boys and girls are now practicing for classroom bees. Those outspelling others in their class will move on to a school spelling bee, then to district and eventually - on to state!

In this statewide superspeller conference April 5, the state's best spellers will determine who's the best of them all. The winner will represent Utah at the National Spelling Bee in Washington, D.C., May 27 through 31.

For high school seniors, the prestigious Sterling Scholar Awards program celebrates 30 years of focusing public attention on the performance of the state's best scholars.

By conducting competition involving more than 90 high schools in five separate programs with a potential of more than a thousand seniors, and by presenting cash and tuition awards, the sponsors seek to commend and encourage excellence among high school students.

The success of this program is shown by the participation of all 40 school districts in the state. This vast area of 85,000 square miles, the circulation area of the Deseret News, is equal in area to West Virginia, Maryland, Vermont, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Delaware and Rhode Island combined.

During its three decades, the program has grown into a second generation of participation, as many Sterling Scholars boast that one or both parents were nominees when they were high school seniors.

These programs cost the sponsors thousands of dollars annually without any expense to the students or their schools. They are just two of many public events sponsored annually by the Deseret News designed to benefit the state and its people.

Another educational service offered by the Deseret News is the Newspaper in Education program, providing workshops and guides for using the newspaper in a variety of class subjects, the production and distribution of a video on the operation of a newspaper, and speakers for career days.

The newspaper sponsors many other public service programs to enrich the lives of Utahns.

They include athletic awards, such as high school all-state teams; Athlete of the Year (won two years in a row by quarterback Ty Detmer of Brigham Young University); the Deseret News marathon and 10,000-meter road race; and the annual ski school, which just completed its 42nd year in providing low-cost instruction to hundreds of beginning skiers.

Incidentally, the Deseret News launched the first marathon ever held in Utah 22 years ago. This 26.2-mile race captured the hearts of long-distance runners, and one of them - Demetrio Cabanillas - set a world record by winning the same marathon eight times.

Because of dwindling participation in the marathon, reflecting the trend among many long-distance races, a shorter race of 6.2 miles was added to this Days of '47 event. Its popularity in the past seven years has grown annually, as shown by the 2,300 entrants who participated in 1990, and an even larger field is expected this summer.

The Deseret News also supports the visual and performing arts, as it sponsors the annual Messiah Sing-In, the Salute to Youth concert with the famed Utah Symphony, a corporate art collection and other special musical numbers.

In promoting patriotism, the Deseret News reminds its readers to display Old Glory in observance of holidays or, as shown by the rush on flags in recent weeks, to support the troops in Operation Desert Storm. And newspaper-sponsored Fourth of July fireworks bring out the "oooohs" and "aaaahs" from observers.

Santa's Helping Hand last Christmas brought toys, food and clothing to hundreds of needy families throughout the Salt Lake Valley, and the popular lighting contest helped to brighten the Christmas holidays.

Each year the Deseret News has the opportunity to sponsor or co-sponsor a variety of new programs and to continue the traditional ones. Why does the newspaper provide such events for the community?

The question is answered with a question:

"Will it benefit the state and its people?"

If it does, the Deseret News will do it.