By Maggie Downs
The Cincinnati Enquirer
PRICE HILL - Fawn Krumpelbeck was not looking forward to the Elder-Oak Hills football game on a recent Friday night.
The Seton High School senior had to climb through the bleachers, handing out magnets for Green Township trustee Tom Straus, who is up for re-election.
"I feel kind of stupid and embarrassed," said the 17-year-old.
Chalk it up to homework.
Two Cincinnati schools are using campaigns as a classroom. If students volunteer for a local politician, the theory goes, they become - and stay - more involved in the election process.
"It does tend to give them a better sense of the importance of voting," said American history teacher Jim Martin of Walnut Hills High School, where juniors have to complete 20 hours of volunteer work for a political campaign.
"This work stops them from being apathetic about the election process," he said. "They end up doing a lot of research on who the candidates are and what they believe in. And I think that lasts in the long run."
It certainly makes the contenders a little more real.
"When you're at a festival or something and you see all the politicians handing out stuff, you think, 'Oh, free cup.' You don't really think about the person whose name is on the cup," said Liz Coz, 17, a Seton senior. "But now, we know about the people on the cups."
Even with the valuable learning experience, Martin said about half the students don't enjoy their volunteer work.
"They feel like they're being used," he said.
The complaints typically boil down to frustrations over being asked to serve as go-fers - bringing in food or cleaning the office.
Of the students who said they didn't care for the experience, most were jaded after seeing the candidates up close and personal. Some said they couldn't even get the candidates to return their initial calls offering to volunteer.
Walnut Hills junior Amber Shelton, 16, switched campaigns after realizing her candidate wasn't what Shelton had believed her to be. Amber decided to devote her time to Sam Malone instead.
"I picked her because I thought she would be a good influence on people. But she let everyone else do her work and sometimes she didn't show up at all," Shelton said. "I thought she would be more involved."
But that's not the standard experience.
Most students do grunt work, like stuffing envelopes, handing out brochures or making phone calls. But they also get a firsthand look at how the system works.
Amy Krings, 23, volunteer coordinator for City Councilman David Pepper, said the high schoolers are valuable because they make the campaign visible.
Pepper's teen volunteers deliver yard signs, walk door-to-door handing out literature and stand at busy intersections for "honk and waves."
"We try to give them skills," Krings said. "While yard signs might not sound like the most exciting job, we show them a map of the city, talk about strategy and discuss the whole campaign process.
"Suddenly delivering yard signs becomes a little more exciting, because they're part of a larger picture."
This kind of work is important to a candidate, she said, because the teens are enthusiastic, young and have the time necessary to speak with people individually.
"We get the students out into the neighborhoods as much as possible," Krings said. "It's another way to develop a personal relationship with the voters."
Many of the Seton and Walnut Hills students work for city council campaigns, with Pepper, John Cranley and Pat DeWine among the most popular.
The candidates sell themselves to the students at "candidate fairs" and in talks in individual classrooms. They hand out flyers, promoting themselves. Then they reel the kids in with food.
"Part of it is that we have snacks and drinks. And people really like our T-shirts," said Krings of Pepper's young volunteers. "Those are really funny things, but that's what initially grabs them.
"But what keeps them here is that they really enjoy their time here."
Cranley wooed students with a pizza party at his campaign office.
"It's always good when you get a lot of boys and girls there, because they show up for the social aspect," he said. "Obviously, I'm also a younger candidate, so that's a big selling point, too. But we really go out of our way to make people feel welcome in the campaign."
Cranley said politicians get something of the deal beyond the enthusiasm and numbers.
"It keeps me connected and it lets me hear what's on the minds of young people," he said.
"Politics should be inspirational and about connecting with the future - and they're our future."
Jim Pharo, government and politics teacher at Seton, said, regardless of the outcome, all the students win.
Short-term, the teens discover the energy and power of grassroots campaign work.
"They realize they don't have to wait until they're 18 to do something," he said. "They really feel like they can accomplish something."
And long-term, it changes their concepts of voting, running for office or volunteering for a campaign.
"I still have graduates come back and tell me that they remember doing work on a campaign," he said. "They take the election process a little more seriously."
Romell Salone, 16, can attest to that. The Walnut Hills junior has been working with Cranley's campaign, an assignment that initially made him groan.
"I'm not really into politics, and there were other things I could do with my time," he said.
But he soon discovered the candidates' efforts to simply get people to the polls. And he realized the importance of one mark on the ballot.
"When I'm of age, I might go out there just because I see how hard they actually try," Salone said.
"And because now I feel like it counts."
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IN CASE YOU MISSED IT...
Sunday's local news report