GROVE CITY -- Their numbers were small but the passion of a handful of Atwater-Cosmos-Grove City students ran high Wednesday as the group conducted a peaceful sit-in at the high school to protest the potential closure of one of the district's elementary school buildings.
Seven students skipped clas-ses and instead spent the entire school day at a table in the lunch room in Grove City to send a message that their opinions should matter when it comes to a school board decision on whether or not to close the ACGC South Elementary School in Cosmos
The protesters -- all girls -- say the small class sizes and experienced teaching staff that make ACGC South a good school should be preserved.
The group wore T-shirts with the words "Save South" written with markers.
Superintendent Sherri Broderius said she understands the students' interest in staging a protest but hopes they did it on their own and were not pressured to do it by adults. She also hopes the students learned civic lessons in the process, but she said the students do not have all the facts and had not contacted school administrators or board members to express their concerns before holding the sit-in.
By giving them the opportunity "to make their statement" on Wednesday, Broderius said she hopes that the students will take time today to meet with her "and allow me to tell them what the facts are" about school finances and efforts being made to keep ACGC South open.
School administrators have been working with Cosmos residents and city officials to find private-public partnerships that could make it financially feasible to keep the school operating as an elementary school.
There is at least one Cosmos business interested in leasing space at the school, there are people willing to volunteer moving snow and there is interest by an existing renter to lease even more space for the autism program operated at the school.
The Cosmos City Council is also floating the idea of offering an incentive to pay all city utilities for a year if a family with school-aged children buys a house in Cosmos and sends their kids to ACGC. The proposal is part of the city's brainstorming efforts to show that "the city is serious about finding and supporting ways to keep the school open," said City Clerk Kathy Blackwell.
Broderius said the irony of the protest is that she had to stop her nearly full-time work of fielding phone calls and arranging meetings that are directly related to keeping ACGC South open in order to deal with the student protesters.
The students said about 20 students showed up for the sit-in in the morning but many were "intimidated" to return to class when questioned by the superintendent.
Alyssa Kremin, a junior, said many students supported the protesters' efforts to keep the school open but returned to class because they did not want to get in trouble. The protesters received unexcused absences for each hour of class they missed.
Kremin said she did not care if she got in trouble and said the protesters gave a voice to other students who "wouldn't have the guts to stand up."
Broderius said some of the younger students who initially joined the group did not know what the protest was about and were only interested in the treats the organizers had brought.
A number of other students said they thought the protest was silly.
"Personally I think it's an embarrassment," said Mitch Tauer, a senior. He did not like the media attention the protest was bringing to the school and community.
Another student, Jazzmyn Sauceda, said she thought there were better ways to make a point than "drinking pop and eating chips" while missing classes. She said if the money is not there, then the school should be closed.
Kremin said she has researched the district's finances and is offering solid solutions. As a Girl Scout leader who has helped girls raise money, she said they would be willing to donate that money to the school to keep it open. She said she is also willing to donate her National Guard paychecks to the school.
If nothing else, Kremin said she hopes the student protest will show the community that "there are people that do care" and that even one person "can make a difference."
The School Board will meet at 7 p.m. Monday at the ACGC Junior/Senior High School in Grove City.