The American School - History

CHAPTER V: 1936 – 1942

AS 1939

  The 1930’s were good years for Americans in the Philippines. Established businessmen here were doing well; newcomers were arriving to try their luck in the Philippine Islands, or the P.I., as they were called; there was even a gold rush in the Baguio area. European political tensions were thousands of miles away, and Americans were assured by Washington that the U.S. would never again become involved in a foreign war.   Philippines
The future looked very bright. Manila itself was expanding, especially along the coast, and Pasay suddenly became the preferred area to live. Building lots and house designs were advertised in all the newspapers; the Journal of the American Chamber of Commerce hinted strongly to readers that investment in property would be a very wise move, and in nearly every issue they gave a detailed description of one new house in Pasay. Many ex-patriots who had formerly rented homes now decided to build their own. 

These changes automatically affected the American School. Parents wanted the school to be closer to where they were living; Malate and Emrita were not considered the "best" areas any longer; trustees believed that the time had come for the American School to have its own property with a building constructed as a school. The costs would be considerable, but the school with its record of 15 successful years was worth investing in. Many families had come and gone, but there was a permanent American community which was loyal to the concept of the American School. They sent their children there, they had supported it in the past, and if their contributions to the American School had to be increased, than as a group they agreed. A building fund was started, and a suitable property was found on Donada Street in Pasay. A trustee who surely deserves to have his name remembered is J.W. Ferrier, who mortgaged his own home to raise the money for his donation to the building fund. Other patrons gave according to their ability. One couple, the J.P. Heilbronns, had been generous supporters of the school in the past. Although they were childless, they took an active interest in the American School, and donated 5,000 pesos for a fence to surround the large playing field. By Christmas of 1936, the building was ready for occupancy. 

After the holidays, students returned to classes in the long, two-story concrete building which was, in theory, storm, fire and earthquake proof. The high roof, many windows and welcome new ceiling fans indicated that the school had been well designed for the tropics. Elementary classes and administrative offices were on the ground floor, while the library and high school were upstairs. 

This fine new building and its property consumed all and a bit more of the donations and pledges raised by the building fund. Presumably the size of the structure was determined by the money available. Thus, it was very discouraging for all concerned to realize that within one year of the new school’s construction, more room was badly needed. Mr. Heilbronn was planning his retirement in the States, partly because he needed medical treatment there. His final gift to the school, a donation of 50,000 pesos, enabled the Board to begin construction of a second building which would be suitably named Heilbronn Hall. 

The new building, completed in 1939, provided everything the school had ever dreamed of. Pre-kindergarten (a brief experiment of two years) and kindergarten, first an second grades, were on the first floor; a two-story gymnasium/auditorium occupied the top floor, complete with balcony, stage, and shower and changing rooms. In the first building, grades 3 to 8 spread themselves more comfortably around the ground floor; the library and high school remained where they were. 

As the school year for 1941-1942 opened, all the signs of a typical American school were visible on Donada Street. Army buses and cars dropped students off at the school, creating a good-size traffic jam. Each elementary teacher taught all subjects to her class, including P.E. Music, art and Spanish were handled by special teachers. The classes took on a wide variety of projects and productions over the course of the year, to which the entire school was invited (and expected to come). Scouts were the largest activity group in the school, with Brownies and Cubs in the elementary grades, and Scouts for older boys and girls. Nearly every elementary boy belonged, and many after school activities were connected with these troops. There were also junior boys’ hockey and soccer teams, and elementary girls’ hockey and basketball teams. 

As is traditionally the case, school spirit and strong, long-lasting loyalties were formed in the high school. Enrollment was even lower than usual in 1941 because the American Navy had pulled out their families and each class had lost some good friends. There was a tremendous opportunity to be involved in the school, just because of its small size. As well as a Student Senate, there were individual class councils. 37% of all the students belonged to the popular Glee Club and the journalism class was alive with activity on the school newspaper, the Bamboo (first put out in 1939), and the yearbook, which made its debut in 1937 as The Bamboo, but was renamed Kawayan two years later. Beside each high school student’s picture was a list of their activities and clubs, and it was easy to spot the old timers, who had participated in everything, and the new students whose "activity sheets" were still blank. 

Sports dominated all other activities. Now that the school had its own gym in Heilbronn Hall, many sports could be played there, and Rizal Stadium with all its facilities was close enough to be used regularly. In 1939, the American School joined the Manila Athletic Association for Secondary Schools (MAASS) and the Manila Ladies Athletic Association (MLAAA), and began playing games on a competitive basis. There were teams for volleyball, basketball, tennis, softball, bowling, badminton (girls), swimming and even polo. The strongest rivalry was with Central School (now called Bordner), and the high point of the year for the boys was the traditional American School – Brent School football game. In 1940, this game had to be cancelled because of an outbreak of polio, and the excursion to Baguio was missed by all. 

Community involvement and interest in the school was never higher. Parents gave the school their support, both by buying raffle tickets and coming to watch all those class productions, and also by providing the same atmosphere at home that was encouraged at school. All students were expected to be involved in school activities, to buy the newspaper and the school hat and a piece of cake at the bake sale. All the classes were raising money for some specific purpose, like the British War Relief, the Red Cross, or other charitable causes. Nearly every teacher had her own children at the school, and felt responsible for the school as a whole, not just for what went on in her class. 

Inexorably, the reality of the world outside the Philippines was coming closer. First, the Navy families had gone; British families who had been evacuated from Shanghai were brought to Manila. The editor of the Journal of the American Chamber of Commerce took the senior class on a tour through Intramuros and Fort Santiago, reminding the students of Manila’s military past. He also suggested that A.S. "adopt a ship", as many stateside schools were doing. The American School could choose an American naval vessel, trace her movements on a map, and then visit the ship when it docked at Manila. But before the ship could be chosen, Pearl Harbor was bombed and the United States entered the war. 

When students came to school on December 8th, they found the flag at half-mast; no regular classes were held, and the students slowly went back to their homes. The American School buildings were immediately offered to the American military, who used them for a few weeks until the Japanese occupation. It would be five more years before the American School resumed normal operations. 
A.S. Flag 

Santo Tomas Internment Camp