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Many parts of the Utah Education Association's upcoming annual convention will be no surprise: teacher trainings, opportunities to meet political candidates and awards.

Other parts, however — such as hands-on learning activities for kids, workshops for parents and teachers, and a visit from the Jazz Bear — might not seem so familiar.

In what represents a new approach for the convention, UEA leaders are aiming to attract not just teachers this year but also kids, parents and community members. Mike Kelley, UEA spokesman, said the union hopes to entice more people to walk through the doors of the two-day convention, which starts Thursday.

"Teachers understand that they cannot do their jobs in isolation," Kelley said, "and by reaching out to the community we're just trying to make sure everyone is aware of the responsibility everyone has in educating our children."

Typically, the event draws about 3,000 to 4,000 people, Kelley said. It's a number that has held steady for the past few years, but is down from decades ago. And though that's still a lot of educators, it's only a fraction of UEA's 18,000 members.

Kelley attributes the long-term decline to a number of factors. In the past, he said, districts paid teachers to attend the convention, which is no longer the case. And though about two-thirds of Utah districts give teachers both days off to attend the convention, a third of districts either give only one day off or no days off for the event. For example, the state's largest district, Alpine, held its fall recess last week.

Also, not all of the state's teachers are within easy driving distance of the South Towne Exposition Center in Sandy, where the event is held.

And, of course, many teachers would simply rather use the days to relax, recharge, travel or catch up on other obligations.

"Another thing we hear from teachers is they're just burned out," Kelley said, "and the appeal of a couple of vacation days is in some cases stronger than the professional development opportunities we offer."

It's part of the reason the convention will also, for the first time this year, stage a fashion show for teachers and a pampering station with free haircuts, massages and manicures for members.

Earlier this week, teachers at Salt Lake City's Highland High shared a range of thoughts on why they generally attend or skip the event.

Kathy Stringham, who teaches Spanish, financial literacy and computer technology, is one of those who said she almost never attends the convention. She said it doesn't seem like there are as many training opportunities for high school teachers as elementary ones. Plus, her son will be off for those two days, so she'll spend the time with him.

Stringham, a UEA member, said she appreciates the union because she believes it gives teachers more voice in their schools, and the UEA stands up for issues important to her, such as class size. But she said the two days off during the convention are a chance for a much-needed break.

"I get more by re-energizing in different ways," Stringham said.

Robert Stevens, a wood shop teacher, said he's noticed fewer teachers at the convention during the 28 years he's been an educator. He typically attends each year with a group of fellow teachers.

"It recharges my battery to be around colleagues," Stevens said, "and just kind of stimulates you to go back to the classroom and apply new ideas."

But even he's missing the event this time around to go on vacation with his wife for the first time in six years. This was the only weekend, he said, they could fit it in.

Ruthie Campbell, who teaches English, said during a recent lunch break that as she scanned those around her, it seemed that about half were planning to attend the UEA convention.

She said she's looking forward to the event this year, particularly a discussion about National Board Certification after a screening of a film about the same topic. As a National Board Certified Teacher — a prestigious distinction that means a teacher has met certain standards of excellence — Campbell looks forward to learning ways she can help others through the process of becoming board-certified. She said she typically attends the convention every few years, when there's something of interest to her, such as now.

Plus, Campbell said, it stokes her excitement for the job.

"All I see is enthusiasm," Campbell said of the convention. "I don't see teachers who are tired. I don't see teachers who are worn out. I see teachers who are in there saying, 'What can I do for my students?' "

Longtime teacher Sue Tice said she looks forward to visiting the event most years — attending workshops and listening to speakers.

"It's important to stay up on what's going on," Tice said, "and to show support to my association of which I've been a member since I was a student teacher."

And many teachers say they're happy to see the UEA reaching out to parents and kids as well this year. Teachers across the state were given extra tickets to the event to hand out to interested parents and neighbors.

Highland welding teacher Denise Hevner isn't planning on going this year, but she has handed out tickets to a few non-teachers in her neighborhood who seemed interested in attending.

She said it's encouraging to know teachers aren't the only ones who want to learn more.

"The more support," Hevner said, "the better."

Twitter: @lschencker —

Learn more about the annual UEA convention

The UEA convention will run Thursday and Friday at the South Towne Exposition Center, 9575 S. State St., Sandy. To see the schedule, go to The cost is $5 for non-UEA members. Children 3 and younger are free. Free tickets are also available from school teachers.

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