"Kids today are better than they've ever been. They're smarter, more respectful, more responsible. The negatives we keep hearing about them are baloney," says Steven Songer, a Utah teacher who was honored recently as Teacher of the Year by US WEST Communications.

Songer, an art teacher at Weber High School, North Ogden, will represent Utah in the regional finals of the teacher recognition program May 1 to 3 in Denver. Winners in the regional competition will receive a one-year paid sabbatical to work on a special project.As state winner, Songer received a $5,000 grant, which he will use to continue development of an artistic "time line" at Weber. A year's sabbatical from his regular classroom duties would speed the project significantly, he said.

Gov. Norm Bangerter, who was among those honoring Songer at a luncheon where the award was announced, complimented him for making art a strong part of the school's offerings.

The educational system tends to "stress basic academics and forget that art is essential to a well-rounded education," said the governor.

Songer already has the beginnings of a historical time line that helps students visualize when particular events in history occurred and how they relate to each other.

He envisions a much larger project, with a 3-inch time line traveling through hundreds of feet of school hallways with a variety of paintings or masonite depictions of major historical events spaced appropriately along the line.

His smaller version of a time line already is used by Weber teachers in other disciplines to help students understand relationships in history.

"They can see, for instance, where Shakespeare fit into the picture and how major music composers were part of a particular historical era called the Renaissance," said Songer.

A historical event of particular stature in his own mind, he said, is Gutenberg's invention of the printing press in the 15th century. "No time line could ignore that," he said.

Songer also is interested in creating a smaller time line - possibly 50 to 60 feet - that could be commercially reproduced for classroom use. He said he believes a need could be filled by such a project.

Runners-up to Songer were awarded $1,000 each by US WEST. They are Ronald Cefalo, a science teacher at Box Elder High School, Brigham City; and Sally Sheppard, a sixth-grade teacher at Rowland Hall-St. Mark's School in Salt Lake City.