Thanks to some local high schoolers, Whitehall residents will have the opportunity to meet City Council and school board candidates at a public forum next week.
Whitehall-Yearling High School, 675 S. Yearling Road, will host a Meet the Candidates Night from 7 to 9 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 4, providing an opportunity for residents to ask questions and hear from candidates.
Seniors in an American government and economics class at the high school accepted the responsibility of planning the candidates night, including reaching out to 14 candidates, soliciting restaurants to provide food and drinks and marketing the event.
"It's a great experience for my students (and) an opportunity for residents to meet candidates," said teacher Anthony Paletta.
Three seniors have taken the reins in the effort: Angelique Latham, Brianna McKinney and Elizabeth Phoung.
Paletta said he approached his class about organizing the event after Principal Paul Smathers told staff members the school had received a project-based learning grant.
"We knew there had not been a candidates night in awhile (and) I thought it would be a good project for our students and a beneficial event for the community," said Paletta, who majored in political science and marketing at Baldwin Wallace University and even once campaigned for Sharon Township trustee.
"So I had a little background in politics ... But (my students) have taken the lead on it."
McKinney sent emails to all the candidates and said last week all of them indicated they will attend.
She said she jumped at the opportunity to participate in planning the event because she wants to learn more about local government.
"This is really a hands-on experience," she said.
She and other students visited Whitehall City Council during a Sept. 19 meeting to promote the event and invite other council members and officials to attend.
"I've heard (people) complain about how things are, but you can do things to change it ... that is why local politics is so important," said McKinney, 17.
Latham's involvement might just be a start.
The 17-year-old said she wants a career in foreign policy, working for the U.S. Secretary of State.
Her interest in politics, specifically foreign policy, was piqued three years ago when she read a book by Hillary Clinton about her experience in the position.
She since has read much more, including books by Ann Coulter, Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice.
"I watch a lot on CNN and YouTube" about foreign affairs and policy, Latham said.
Latham is focused on the logistics of the candidates night, such as the order and screening of the questions and time limits on responses.
"It was something I was interested in the minute (I heard)," she said.
Phoung is handling the marketing aspect of the candidates night. That includes distributing fliers and using social media to promote the event and landing a restaurant to provide food.
"I hope people come to meet the candidates. These are real people. I think a lot of people just go vote without knowing (the candidates or issues)," said Phoung, 16.
She said she hopes the experience will provide her with leadership skills she can use in a future career in interior design.
About 45 minutes is set aside for each group of candidates -- school board and City Council -- with a 15-minute break between.
As of Sept. 22, a moderator had not been selected, but students are vetting potential moderators to present the questions, Paletta said.
Eight candidates for City Council -- two in each of the city's four wards -- are expected to attend.
Five school board candidates are seeking three open seats.
School board candidates are Tiffanie C. Charles, Darryl J. Hammock Jr., incumbent Leo Knoblauch, Mone't Smith and incumbent Blythe Wood.
Council candidates are:
* Ward 1: incumbent Christopher Rodriguez and Gerald Dixon
* Ward 2: incumbent Lee Stahley and Joanna Heck
* Ward 3: incumbent Larry Morrison and Paul Werther
* Ward 4: Lori Elmore and Leslie LaCorte.
Auditor Dan Miller is unopposed but is expected to participate in the event.