FRANKFORT, Ky. (WDRB) – They stood on the steps of the Capitol on Tuesday – some huddled beneath umbrellas as others simply let the mix of rain, sleet and snow fall on their uncovered heads – and shared their views on what can be done to quell the recent gun violence that has ripped through high schools in Kentucky and Florida in recent months.

More than 80 students, parents and teachers gathered outside the statehouse as part of the Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence’s Student Voice Team’s March For Our Lives Kentucky rally, many bearing signs that spelled out their frustrations.

Keaton Conner, a Marshall County High School junior, was among those who took to the podium on Tuesday. Two of her schoolmates were victims in the deadly Jan.23 shooting at her high school in Benton, Ky., and she told those gathered that she wants to see a multifaceted approach to make schools safer – providing more mental health resources, increasing security measures and banning assault weapons and large-capacity firearm magazines.

“As a student, I refuse to remain silent until I know this will never happen again,” she said.

Conner told WDRB News before the rally that she and five other Marshall County High School students shared their views on school safety with Gov. Matt Bevin as he visited their school on Monday.

For her, she never wants another city to feel the emotions that have wracked her school and community in the nearly two months since two Marshall County students were killed and several others were wounded in the January shooting.

“I appreciate (Bevin) coming out, but now I want to see his action because coming into it he did not establish any real plan of action that he had,” Conner said.

“We did bounce our ideas and tell him what we thought would be most beneficial and expressed to him that we’re not going to sit back and watch this happen again. We’re asking big things, and we expect big things in return, and I want our other legislators, not only at the state level but at the national level, to acknowledge that as well and for them to realize it really doesn’t matter if you agree with us, at least be respectful and have an educated conversation with us about what this outcome may look like.”

Before Tuesday’s rally, more than 100 students and organizers schools attended a “teach-in” hosted by the Prichard Committee’s Student Voice Team in the Capitol Annex, where they learned how to effectively engage in political discourse on school violence.

Rachel Belin, director of the Student Voice Team, said students from about 25 schools across Kentucky attended the hours-long session and came with varied ideas and views on how to effectively address the complicated topics of gun violence and school safety.

She said she believes their work on Tuesday will “outlive today.”

“Students were modeling something that we haven’t seen very much in the general political discourse, and that is civic discourse,” Belin said. “They modeled exactly what adults and others should be doing when we’re talking about complex issues like school violence, and so they were OK with not knowing all the answers. They were OK listening to each other and asking the right questions. All of us can learn from them.”

Members of the Student Voice Team, who helped organize Tuesday’s activities, said they hoped to give students across the state an opportunity to share their thoughts on how to make schools safer.

Their minds were not only on the incident in Marshall County, but also on the Feb. 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., that left 17 students and faculty dead.

Hiatt Allen, a Student Voice Team member who graduated from Tates Creek High School and American University, said he hopes Tuesday’s rally will help spur solutions from policymakers and prompt other students to share their views on school safety.

Like Conner, Allen said he would like to see stricter gun laws passed such as raising the age to buy semiautomatic rifles. He also said school administrators and teachers should listen to students more to help “bridge the empathy gap.”

“Students know what happens in their schools,” he said. “They know the school climate. They know what they live through every day, and they know how to make it better.”

Sierra O’Brien, a sophomore at Sayre School who’s also a member of the Student Voice Team, also said it’s important to make students part of conversations surrounding school safety .

“We want people to understand that they do have a voice and that students matter and that we’re the ones that need to be the ones speaking up because it’s our school and it’s what we want for and we have to go there every day,” O’Brien said.

Allen plans to travel to Washington, D.C., for the national March For Our Lives rally on Saturday.

Conner said she would like to join the D.C. march, but she felt the one happening in her western Kentucky community on Saturday was more important for her personally considering everything that Marshall County has endured since Jan. 23.

“I need to be with my community, and we need to stand together,” she said.

Reach reporter Kevin Wheatley at 502-585-0838 and Follow him on Twitter @KevinWheatleyKY.

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