The American School - History

CHAPTER IV: 1925 – 1936

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  In 1925, when Elizabeth Marshall left the Philippines and the position of principal became vacant, the Board did not have to look far for a replacement; within a month, they announced the appointment of Mrs. Beatrice Grove. It was a fortunate choice, for she remained the principal of the American School for eleven years, and devoted her considerable energies to the school’s growth. Philippines
By 1935, there were certainly some parents and trustees who breathed a sigh of relief when Mrs. Grove retired. She had a strong personality, and no hesitation about speaking her mind; if she thought she was right. She was right, and not many would try to convince her otherwise. But her students never forgot her; they may have hazy memories of the school or their other teachers, but they have a very clear image of the principal. 

The Groves were a part of the permanent American community in Manila. Major Grove came with Admiral Dewey’s forces in 1898, and when he retired from military service he stayed in Manila to become Superintendent of the Philippine School of Arts and Trades. Mrs. Grove, an English specialist, taught academic work there, and in 1922 she joined the staff of the American School as a 3rd and 4th grade teacher. Once she became principal, she taught the senior English class (American Literature) so she could know the graduating class better. The principal’s work day was full and varied. She interviewed prospective teachers and hired them; she met new students and their parents; she sent out bills and tried to balance the accounts; she answered the phone, supervised the caretaker and handled what few discipline problems there were. Once she got a care in the early 30’s, she even took students on field trips. These trips occurred frequently since only two or three cars were needed to transport an entire class. Students enjoyed the outings immensely, but got even more enjoyment from counting the number of garbage cans per trip knocked over by Mrs. Grove’s erratic driving. 

In 1928, the school moved again. This time to 1259 M. H. del Pilar. It was a huge, rambling old Spanish home which had once been occupied by a private school back before 1920. Overcrowding and lack of facilities prompted the move, and finally the school had a chance to breathe. Several factors contributed to this new and welcome feeling of stability: Mrs. Grove’s tenure as principal; increased enrollment, so that tuition fees and operating costs almost balanced; gifts and donations to the school, enabling them to buy some much-needed equipment; and a stay of eight years on del Pilar, which gave the students and the school time to feel permanent, time to create what we might call "school spirit" today. 

The first floor walls of the school were made of thick adobe, with barred windows and outward-swinging grillwork. Upstairs the rooms were 20 feet high, and there were immense floor-to-ceiling unscreened windows; those on the front of the house overlooked Manila Bay. Huge old acacia trees shaded the garden. Elementary classrooms were located on the ground floor, and some of the new funds were spent on playground equipment for the yard. Of the remaining money, most was used for renovating the old kitchen and servants’ quarters, turning them into a science laboratory for 12 students. One science class (chemistry, physics, or biology) was offered each year, with seniors getting the first choice, juniors second, and so on. At the top of the main stairs stood Mrs. Grove’s roll-top desk, a small black iron safe and the school’s library, a 5’ x 8’ bookcase. Any child foolish enough to get into trouble (perhaps by imitating Mrs. Grove’s habitual gesture of wiping her hand across the lower part of her face) would be perched in solitary shame on top of the iron safe for the entire school to see. This was sufficient punishment to keep repeat offenses to a minimum. From her desk, Mrs. Grove could survey her domain: elementary classes below, and high school classes all around the upstairs balcony. Many walls had been removed, and rooms had saloon-type swinging doors, so an open-classroom effect was achieved. Even the narrow verandah was used for two classes. When Mrs. Grove was teaching or away from her desk, well-behaved upperclassmen who had high marks were allowed the "privilege" of answering her telephone. 

Special subjects were not neglected. Music classes were held downstairs once a week, after the younger children had been dismissed. All the older students, grades 7-12, were involved, directed by a music and singing teacher with the appropriate name of Mrs. Boomer. Once a year, a play was produced, such as Merchant of Venice, and there was always a musical Christmas program. Before Thanksgiving, the entire school was busy preparing for "The Exhibition", a forerunner of our Open House. Special projects and illustrated notebooks were carefully worked on and displayed, desks tidied and classrooms decorated.  

Spanish lessons began in Kindergarten and continued up through High School. There was only one Spanish teacher in the early years – certainly an extremely busy teacher. In 1925, the school hired a young woman who had just completed her studies in Spain. This was an act of intuitive brilliance because Senorita Maria Luisa Martinez stayed with the school until 1972 (with the exception of two short periods in the 30’s) and provided a unique and much valued continuity. At recess, refereed baseball games; she took students on field trips in her own car; and she made sure that a student could speak Spanish when she was finished with him/her. Former students, when asked about their school memories, invariably reply, "My teachers? The one I remember most is Senorita." 

Sports were not organized until well into the 30’s. One year, the lack of a P.E. program prompted the Board to ask for outside help. An American army sergeant came every morning to lead calisthenics, with the entire school lined up row by row in the yard. It was hard to determine who was more reluctant, the sergeant or the students, but the students loathed it, complained to their parents and the Board, and after a few months, the experiment stopped and was never repeated. There was occasional interest in basketball, and then a father would take a group of boys to the "Y" or the Columbia Club. If they were lucky, there would be a pick-up game when they got there. One year, in desperation, the girls were allowed to practice with the boys at the "Y"; a girls’ team was even started, without a coach or any knowledge of girls’ rules. In their first game, all the A.S. players had fouled out before the end of the first half; after that, enthusiasm died away. 

The school’s enrollment came close to 200 during this period, with about 40 students in the high school. Elementary classes were always larger, because it was still common to send older children, particularly boys, away to boarding schools. As a result, camaraderie was especially strong in the small High School. During recess, all the students ate their snacks from home, and then splurged 10 centavos (if they had it) at "Lope’s Canteen". Lope Carreon was the gardener, electrician, painter, caretaker, messenger, and friend to all. His case of cokes and yellow Magnolia box of ice cream pies were the focal point of the school yard. With younger children running around, the yard was crowded, and so Juniors and Seniors were allowed to leave the school grounds. Usually they walked across Dewey Boulevard (now Roxas) and sat on the big rocks along the shore of the bay. The burning issues among the older students were the use of nail polish, lipstick and high heels for the girls, and corduroy pants (as unwashed as possible) for the boys. Mrs. Grove did not consider these things suitable at her school. University entrance was uncomplicated. Mrs. Grove asked the parents where they wanted to send their child, and then she wrote a letter to that college, saying to the student, "They will be glad to have you". Nearly always, she was right. 

The first graduation was held in 1923, and these important occasions soon acquired traditional rites. Senior classes were always ver small. In 1928, there were two graduates from high school and six from 8th grade. The ceremony was held at the school, with Judge Harvey speaking. Part of the program was provided by the school’s vocal quartet, which sang "Song When Light Is Brightest". 

By 1930, graduations were held at the Elk’s Club, and the classes had grown a bit. There were five who graduated that year, and the program was held in the evening with Bishop Mosher as the guest speaker; the night before there had been a special Baccalaureate Sermon at the Episcopal Church. The girls wore long white gowns and carried flowers, while the boys were dressed in light-colored suits. The Class of 1936 was the last to graduate from the del Pilar school. There were seven students, and because of someone’s travel arrangements, the graduation exercises had to be held on a Sunday. The Board was asked to give permission for the usual tea dance to be held afterwards, but trustees could not bring themselves to condone such Sunday frivolity. The Class of 1936 left the American School without a dance.
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A SCHOOL OF OUR OWN (1936 – 1942)

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