The American School - History

CHAPTER VII: 1944 – 1959

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Challenge And Growth

  The American School’s two buildings on Donada Street survived the bombings of the liberation practically unscarred and were immediately put to use by the American forces.  A food center was set up in Heilbronn Hall, and the Main Building was used first as a hospital and then as a warehouse. Philippines
Eventually, the Philippine Relief and Rehabilitation Association (PRRA) took charge of both buildings.  Most families came out of internment to bombed-out or looted homes and the prospect of starting their pre-war businesses all over again.  When they were offered immediate repatriation back to the States, many took it, reluctant to leave the Philippines but not seeing any alternative.  On the other hand, many leading pre-war businessmen (who had also been influential in the Santo Tomas Camp) renewed acquaintances with Filipino friends and partners, and picked up their lives and businesses more or less where they had left off. 

 The American Chamber of Commerce had held its first meeting in three years while they were still in the Camp, two weeks after liberation. These men felt strongly that life should return to a semblance of normality as soon as possible.  Thus, it was the American Chamber of Commerce which first began discussions about re-opening the American School.  A meeting attended by a few former trustees and 35 others was held at the Army and Navy Club in February of 1946.  Although there was some doubt expressed about the need for re-opening of the school at that time, since the number of American families in Manila was still very small, the group pushed ahead regardless.  They cabled Lois Croft, who had returned to the States after interment, and offered her the principal’s job again; she accepted, but advised them that she could not be in Manila until August or September.  The Philippine Reconstruction and Rehabilitation Association appreciated the community’s need for their school, promised to vacate the A.S. buildings by July and finally left in September.  Atlantic Gulf and Pacific Company agreed to do all the work to rehabilitate the school at cost price.  The major problem was, as usual, money.  A finance committee was formed which raised 127,000 pesos in cash and a further 33,500 pesos in notes.  An article in the Journal of the American Chamber of Commerce pointed out that this sum was sufficient to re-open the school, but was not nearly enough to bring it up to the level of the “better preparatory schools in the U.S.”  This and other comments indicated that the original aims of the American School were unchanged; it would educate children of American, British and European families in an American academic environment. 

 School finally opened in September, 1946 with grades 1-12 all in the Main Building, because Heilbronn Hall was still being renovated.  Mrs. Croft managed to find a teacher for each classroom, and they coped as best they could, slowly regaining their pre-war stability and character.  Seven students graduated in March, 1947, but it was really the school year 1947-1948 which represented a complete return to normal operations. 

 It became obvious that the trustees’ concern about low enrollment was unnecessary, because the A.S. began a persistent battle with rising enrollment and lack of space.  Admittedly, this increase was never constant; the size of the American community in Manila fluctuated according to the political climate both within the Philippines and in other parts of Asia.  The maximum pre-war enrollment was 350, but in 1948 there were already 564 students at the A.S. (425 Americans, 48 British, 24 Filipinos, 17 Germans and 14 Spaniards).  This first increase in enrollment was a result of the demise of Central School.  The Philippines was now independent, and their Bureau of Education was understandably not going to run a school for non-Filipinos; the A.S. had become the only school for foreigners. 

 In 1950, the Philippine Government instituted a number of control measures for foreign-owned businesses, and many Americans decided to leave.  Six weeks after the school opened that June, they had lost three teachers and 31 pupils (13% of their enrollment).  A further drop in the enrollment was caused by the current Korean War scare.  Despite these decreases, the school never had fewer students and in 1945, and they were always looking for more room.  They tried renting a building close to the school on Harrison Avenue, and then abandoned it after a week because the building was right on the street, and the noise and dust were impossible.  Then grades 4 and 5 (60 pupils) were moved to four quonset huts at Seafront as another temporary measure.  They were cut off from the rest of the school, and the huts were very hot, but the students had the compensation of a large playing field.  After a few months, Seafront people again needed both the huts and the furniture in them, so the students were fitted back in to the Donada campus.  

 At the end of the Korean War, enrollment rose again, prompting the construction of two new buildings: South Hall, with new classrooms, was built in 1953; Spruance Hall, named for a recently-retired American ambassador to the Philippines, was finished in 1955.  High school classes were still smaller than the total enrollment might have suggested some families were continuing to send their children to boarding schools in their own countries.  On the other hand, enrollment in the elementary grades was frequently closed because there simply was not room for even one more desk.  The school stopped its kindergarten classes so the space could be used for higher grades. 

 Finding teachers was probably the biggest headache for Mrs. Croft and her successor, Mr. Warfel.  Philippine Independence meant no more Americans working for the local government, and a greatly reduced American military presence, especially in Manila.  Many of the school’s former teachers had come from these two groups, and the principals now had to search desperately for American teachers.  The idea of bringing staff from the States was not even considered; Mrs. Croft was an exception, but she had worked with the school before.  Mr. Warfel himself was hired in Manila, where he had retired.  Training and experience in education were no longer basic requirements; if a woman wanted to teach, they gave her a job.  In 1953, the Board of Trustees decided, as an experiment, to hire a few Filipino teachers, and set down a formidable list of qualifications.  These teachers must had studied in the States; their English must be perfect; and through their husbands or their families, they must be connected with American businesses here and so be at no social disadvantage with teachers already on staff.  These first teachers were eminently well-qualified, and many stayed with the school until their retirement. 

 Once the Spruance Hall was completed in 1955 and a small building for the canteen added, the Donada Campus was full.  Any further expansion at the site was impossible.  Already a migration to the new “villages” in Makati was taking place, following the relocation there of the Polo Club and the Manila Golf Club.  It also seemed reasonable to assume the enrollment would continue to rise.  The American School, with its present property and equipment, was worth approximately one million pesos, but much more than that would be needed to purchase new property and build a new school.  In 1956, the school learned it might be eligible for grants from the U.S. Department of State, under Public Law 480.  After much research and documentation, the American School’s first request was submitted to the U.S. Embassy in Manila in 1958, and granted (after seven more paperwork) in 1960.  One deciding factor in the school’s favor was that it was, and would continue to be, an example of the American education system in the Philippines.  This first grant was used to set up the Filipino Scholarship program, and to purchase new property for the school in Bel-Air, Makati.  The report accompanying the grant also suggested that more Filipino students (up to 15% of the total enrollment) be accepted by the school.  During the same period, the U.S. Government sold off surplus agricultural products which had been stored in Manila, and by agreement with both the Philippine government and the U.S. Department of State, donated the proceeds to the American School for their first building in Makati, the Elementary School.  It was occupied in 1960, and High School students remained on Donada Street until 1962 when the High School building was completed. 

 Student life in the 50’s was active and varied, even though many adult old-timers thought that the behavior of the younger generation, especially those new to Manila, left much to be desired.  The school was still small enough to have a distinctive character, and in 1946 there was a small but important carry-over of students who had been in the A.S. all their lives: before the war, during internment and then back to Donada Street.  In addition, many former graduates of the A.S., members of permanent expatriate community in Manila, had married and were sending their own children to the school.  Three of these “old timers” began the student canteen; students set up and ran a traffic patrol to ease the constant traffic jams outside the school gates; there was a teen club, a new school magazine and a student government and senate, all initiated by the students themselves.  In 1947 as Mothers’ Auxiliary (later called PTA) was formed to help with Scouts, school plays and chaperoning dances.  One of the Auxiliary’s first successes was convincing the U.S. forces to donate a large number of surplus musical instruments to the school’s music class.  There were about 10 dances a year, most of them held at the school, and many sports events with other schools, as well as inter-class competitions. 

 The class of 1949 saw the introduction of the American Eagle as the school’s insignia, and they were also the first class to have a school ring – a black onyx with the school shield.  School spirit ran high, especially in 1956, when the A.S. won the MAASS basketball championships.  Sports became official extra-curricular activities in 1952, and to give academic balance, the Cum Laude Society was also introduced.  When the A.S. become the first private school outside the U.S. to be listed in Sergeant’s Handbook of Schools (1952), the trustees and the community took justifiable pride in “their” school.  The A.S. seemed destined to continue its successful growth as it moved to the new location in Makati. 
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