Fern Creek High School student Faith Hennig recounted Fern Creek’s school shooting on the steps of the Capitol. Photo by Olivia Krauth

Hours after news broke of a school shooting in Maryland, Kentucky students— including multiple JCPS students — met in the state capital for a school safety teach-in and rally Tuesday, hoping to help end what has become a cycle of school shootings and inaction.

After spending the day in training on how to be student activists, a group of Fern Creek High School students walked out of the Capitol Annex in Frankfort to head to the final part of their day: A rally to speak out against gun violence.

They were quickly greeted by a cold wind gust and light rain. “It’s raining,” one said, slightly surprised.

“Keep going, it makes it more radical,” another said, continuing on to the rally. Within the next hour, those same students would be voicing their opinions on the Capitol steps.

Student speakers explained their viewpoint on school safety and gun control. Hailing from across the state, students’ opinions and history with guns varied. Now as they stood in a rain-snow mixture, the Fern Creek students spoke to the crowd.

“Freshman year, there was a gunman in our school,” Faith Hennig said. She retold a tale of hiding in a band room closet with 50 other students.

“When the announcement came on, I felt a rush of fear,” Austin Bowman said. “You don’t know what’s actually going on.”

Senior Khamari Brooks said schools need better security systems with more metal detectors and cameras. Bowman disagreed.

“I agree that our schools need to be safe, but I don’t want us to transform our schools into fortresses,” Bowman said. “I feel like metal detectors, or more police officers, or teachers with guns, that doesn’t make me feel any safer.”

Hosted by the non-partisan Prichard Committee Student Voice Team, participants’ afternoons began with a student-led teach-in designed to empower students to become citizen activists. Trainings and panels focused on how to organize mass events, meet legislators and amplify the student voice.

“You have a lot more power than you think,” one panelist said to a crowded room of high school activists from across the state. She encouraged students to reach out to legislators, saying they can have more sway than an adult.

Knowing how to interact with legislators was a key point for several panelists. David Byerman, director of the Legislative Research Commission, compared citizen activists to lobbyists.  

“Know your opponents’ arguments cold,” Byerman said. “Know that answer, know how to overcome it.”

The program aimed to address several facets of being an activist and understanding school and gun violence issues. The discussion extended to overlooked parts, including low-income schools who deal with violence regularly.

“We’re not just standing with the Parkland students. We’re standing with students who have experienced this their entire lives,” a student panel leader said.

The event fell halfway between two national student-driven events organized in the wake of the February Parkland, Fla., school shooting, which left 17 dead. On March 14, students across the nation walked out of class for 17 minutes to honor the victims and advocate for gun control.

Students will speak out again on March 24 during the national March For Our Lives event, when students and adults will march for gun reform. Louisville’s march will start at 1:30 p.m., beginning at the corner of N. Brook Street and E. Witherspoon Street and ending at Metro Hall.