By Preston Romanov
Trinity High School
As incoming editor-in-chief of the school newspaper at Paul Laurence Dunbar High School in Lexington, Kennedy Gayheart, 17, is taking over just months after the paper made national news.
The PLD Lamplighter, an award-winning publication, has for many years had a solid reputation in scholastic journalism circles.
But she and her fellow student journalists never expected to be caught in the middle of a news story involving both Kentucky’s governor and the U.S. Secretary of Education — a story that even captured the attention of the Washington Post and other national news outlets.
“It was very crazy to think that a little public school like us from Lexington here in Kentucky made it on to multiple national news sources,” Gayheart said. “It was such a big deal for the school and our journalism program.”
Kennedy, a rising senior, said the story began when three of her fellow student journalists showed up to cover a roundtable discussion on education and charter schools being held at a local public community college. This event saw numerous notable attendees, including Gov. Matt Bevin and U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos. Despite showing proper identification, however, the students were refused entry and sent home.
They were told they had not sent in an RSVP, though the event had been advertised as open. They walked back to their car disappointed, angry and confused.
Reaction was swift. The students wrote about the experience in an editorial, which Gayheart helped write.
Titled “No Seat at the Roundtable,” the editorial read, “It was heartbreaking to us, as young journalists fired up to cover an event regarding the future of education, to leave empty handed.”
The piece received 12,000 hits just days after publication. “We reached an audience wider than we ever imagined,” Gayheart said.
The students’ work was supported, Gayheart said, by PLD journalism adviser and former reporter for the Lexington Herald Leader, Wendy Turner.
Gayheart and several classmates were soon after invited to an event called “Moving Public Education Forward” in Columbus, Ohio, for public school teachers and administrators. They were asked to attend by Diane Ravitch, a former assistant U.S. Secretary of Education and an outspoken advocate for public schools.
Gayheart said Ravitch had read the Washington Post piece about them, as well as the student-written editorial.
“She contacted us and said she was really inspired by all of us and was calling us young heroes of journalism,” Gayheart said.
Outside of journalism, Gayheart enjoys singing, playing golf, and participating in her school’s cultural fair. She also plays the violin. This past spring, she pushed herself out of her comfort zone by joining the school musical.
Gayheart is looking for a small college that has a great emphasis on journalism. She is considering Western Kentucky University and Asbury University. Gayheart said her dream job would be executive producer on a comedy TV show.
The overwhelming support the Lamplighter staff received was “really motivating,” Gayheart said. It also made her realize that even student journalists can make a big impact.
“It’s important for all young people and students to have a voice in society,” she said, “especially when we’re discussing the future of children’s education and moving forward.”