By Karen Gutierrez
The Cincinnati Enquirer
FLORENCE - Kristi Watkins spent the night saying prayers to calm herself. Jennifer Baumgardner was so nervous that she popped out of bed at 4 a.m.
This was it: Election Day. Who would become the next student representative to the Boone County School Board?
The three high school seniors made their final speeches on Friday: Jennifer from Ryle High, Kristi from Conner and Caitlin Drance from Boone County High.
Each wanted to become the voice for 15,000 students. But first they had to convince their audience: 28 kids voting on behalf of 18 schools.
Boone County's board is the only one in the state with a student representative elected by other young people and involved in every meeting as a bona fide member, only without voting powers.
It's a tough job, full of confusing jargon about funding formulas and testing cycles.
Last year, at least 250 board members statewide had no opposition for re-election, says the Kentucky School Boards Association. Ten seats, including one in Southgate, had no candidates, so the education commissioner drafted people.
Boone County's student position is a different story.
"I know I want to be heard," Caitlin said. "If I want to be heard, I know every student wants to be heard."
On Friday, the young women passed out gimmicks - Airheads, Kit-Kats, homemade cookies - with campaign slogans attached. They made their final speeches, and then the voters asked questions.
"Will you guys be able to make all the board meetings?" asked Morgan Pittman, a fifth-grader at Florence Elementary.
"When you visit our schools, who will you talk to?" asked Maddie Greenhalgh, a fifth-grader at Yealey.
Superintendent Bryan Blavatt presided, and board members Ed Massey and Steve Templeton helped monitor the balloting.
When the results were in, Blavatt announced that only four votes separated the top candidate from the bottom. He praised all the students, and then ...
"OK, I have up here certificates for all the delegates ..."
People let out giggles and groans. The candidates squirmed.
Blavatt was joking. Superintendent Brian Blavatt made the announcement: The new student board member would be Caitlin Drance.
She smiled big. The other girls smiled bravely. Voters felt their pain.
"I just feel sorry for them all," said Tyler Gullett, an eighth-grader at Conner Middle School. "I understand how big this job would be."
Afterward, everybody ate lunch. Caitlin told students she would soon be visiting their schools to learn the top issues on their minds.
Jennifer ended up at a table of fifth-graders who were doing tricks like bending their thumbs backward.
"If I roll my tongue into a tube, I can use it as a straw. It's really cool," Maddie said.
Jennifer laughed. The color was returning to her face.
"I can wiggle my ears," she said.
And then she did.
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