Historic Resource Study/Special History Study
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Recommencement of School

Following the violence on Sunday, December 6, 1942, WRA education administrators attempted to hold school as usual the next day. Because of continuing unrest and disruptions, however, "it was considered unwise for the children to congregate in groups." The administrators then determined that the schools could not be reopened successfully until requested by the evacuees. In response, the Peace Committee sponsored a resolution, which was circulated in every block and signed by virtually all parents of school-aged children:

As parents of school-aged children in Manzanar we wish to endorse the present Manzanar school program. We will see that our children attend regularly and behave in an orderly, polite manner at school and toward the teachers. We wish to cooperate with the school department in carrying out the best possible education program in a peaceful, orderly fashion. We trust that the schools can reopen soon after the first of the year.

School authorities meanwhile took advantage of the "recess" to complete improvements in the classrooms and formalize school policies and procedures. Merritt established "lines of procedure" that "released materials and labor for work on the school barracks" and "facilitated the distribution of books, supplies, and other equipment."

The interim "recess" also provided time in which to improve "the organization and morale of the teaching staff." After the violence, teachers volunteered "to help carry on emergency services" in the center. Nine teachers resigned in December, but "for those who remained improved relations with other appointed personnel became evident." As the camp returned to normal, teachers' study groups formed to revise and improve curricula and plan a schoolwide testing program. Three new teachers arrived in addition to a nursery-school supervisor who established a preschool teachers training program. The nursery, elementary, secondary school, and adult education units, as well as the libraries and the visual aids museum, were reorganized to make them more "autonomous."

On January 6, 1943, the education office issued an announcement that elementary, secondary school, and adult education classes would be resumed on Monday, January 11. A new regulation, stating that no one over 16 years of age would be required to attend school, was implemented, thus providing for "smoother high-school functioning thereafter." Some 25 former pupils over 16 years of age withdrew from school. The bulletin announcing commencement of the school program stated:

The re-opening of school brings additional responsibility to students and parents. Teachers and administrators are determined that schools shall offer the same type of work and meet the standards of the public schools of California. Most students desire to do serious work, and they recognize the importance of an adequate education for successful living. Disturbances and misconduct will be dealt with firmly. Expelling from school and other disciplinary measures will be taken as necessary. Earnest and sincere students will be protected from such disturbances.

Although elementary and adult classes reopened on January 11, a shortage of material delayed construction in the secondary school block. Thus, high school classes did not reopen until January 18. Two weeks later on February 1, nursery school classes also resumed.

Students returning to school found "plasterboard lining their ceilings and walls, and linoleum on their floors." Stoves had been installed, so that the rooms were warm and fairly comfortable for the first time since cold weather had set in during the fall of 1942. The schoolrooms had "chairs for all the children, with tables for most, as well as supply cabinets, bookcases, blackboards, and shelves." The teachers attempted "to smooth over the break that had been caused by the riot and to turn their energies to educating the children." The Parent-Teachers Association conducted a series of back-to-school meetings which were attended by more than 2,000 parents and adults. [20]

School Standards

By the spring of 1943, the schools at Manzanar had become "fairly well organized."

On June 7-8, 1943, the chief of the Division of Secondary Education in the State Department of Education visited Manzanar to inspect the junior-senior high school program. On June 21, Walter F. Dexter, State Superintendent of Public Instruction, informed WRA Director Myer that the "junior-senior high school at Manzanar meets the standards contained in the School Code of California and the Rules and Regulations of the California State Board of Education." The teachers "hold appropriate California credentials with but few exceptions and in these instances the teachers are well trained." The "course of study has been carefully developed, appropriate school facilities and equipment have been provided, and instruction is well organized." [21]

The elementary school was examined by the Helen Heffernan, Chief, Division of Elementary Education of the State Department of Education on September 23-24, 1943, and on October 11 she wrote to Carter:

On the basis of the observation, may I take this opportunity to state that 1 believe the quality of education which I observed in the schools at Manzanar compares favorably with the educational program in the schools from which these children came.

It was particularly interesting to me to observe the development of your nursery school and kindergarten program. For children from homes in which a foreign language is frequently the spoken language, this early opportunity for contact with English-speaking people is of the utmost importance. Under the conditions which exist in the relocation settlement it is of tremendous value that young children of preschool age have the opportunities you provide for them for use of educative materials, undisturbed rest, and excellent guidance on the part of young women who were charged with this responsibility. The nursery school and kindergarten programs provide opportunity beyond that available to many children in the school districts from which the Manzanar school children were transferred.

It is a pleasure to comment specifically upon the excellent physical education and health education in progress. The individual records being kept for each child are the equivalent of those kept in efficient school systems.

It was a source of much satisfaction to me to examine the records on standardized tests which have been given at Manzanar during the past year, and to note that the children enrolled in your schools have reached or surpassed the national norms on such tests. In view of the dislocation they experienced in their educational program last year, the standards which they have attained is the best possible evidence of the effectiveness of your educational program and the devotion with which teachers have worked with these children. [22]

In addition to these evaluations, the Committee on School Relations from the University of California, Berkeley, the accrediting agency of the state, inspected the secondary school program and placed Manzanar High School on its accredited list. Thus, the University of California was willing to accept Manzanar high school graduates, although evacuees were prohibited from Military Areas Nos. 1 and 2. [23]

As they sought to provide a quality education to the evacuees at Manzanar during the 1943-45 period, the educators at Manzanar began "to reach several common agreements as to certain beliefs which were shaping our education program." These key tenets, according to superintendent Carter, included:

  1. Japanese American citizens must be taught the same fundamental skills as any other American citizens, and special emphasis should be given to English and speech instruction.

  2. There must be a conscious effort on the part of the classroom teacher to promote a better understanding of American ideals and loyalty to American institutions.

  3. The schools must equip the child with better than average formal educational and vocational experience.

  4. The teacher must provide the link "between the stagnant life with the center and the changing world beyond the barbed wire fence."

  5. The teacher must not allow the Japanese American child to become too absorbed in his misfortunes and feelings of being the only object of prejudice in America.

  6. Teachers in adult education programs must recognize that even greater skill must be "exercised in bringing American culture to the Issei and Kibei." [24]


According to the Final Report, Manzanar, "great ingenuity was required in setting up special rooms for the high-school classes." A high school study hall-library was "built in the large mess hall building" of Block 7. The kitchen-pantry section of the mess hall was developed into a two-room home economics unit. A model home apartment was set up in the high school block. This project was described in a mimeographed bulletin, entitled "A Barrack Becomes A Home," prepared by the Manzanar home economics supervisor. In the bulletin, the importance of the model home was explained:

It has been felt by many authorities that this lack of a normal home situation has had a more detrimental influence on the young people of the camp than any other phase of the evacuation. Under such circumstances, the need for training in all fields of home economics was far greater than in the average school. . . .

The high school clothing classes were taught in two ironing rooms in Block 7. Thus, they were equipped with electric outlets for irons and electric machines.

Prior to completion of the Auditorium during the late spring of 1944, physical education facilities were "inadequate." Nevertheless, the facilities, as described in a mimeographed bulletin, entitled "Health and Physical Education," prepared by the health and physical education supervisor, included a hazard course, health room, and outdoor play equipment.

The physics and chemistry laboratory was placed in a laundry building. The boiler room was converted into a storage and supply room, while every other laundry tub in the laundry room was covered by a work board, with a supply cabinet set in between each tub. Large work tables were spaced in the center of the room.

During the 1943-44 school year, classrooms were enlarged, with each barrack divided into three classrooms. Each classroom had sufficient arm chairs or students' tables to "give adequate service."

One barrack was set aside for music and "little-theater work." After the Auditorium, was completed, the "little-theater building" proved "more desirable for class work."

The education superintendent's, business, and high school offices were located in one barrack "well finished inside, with adequate office equipment." The elementary school office was located with the elementary school in Block 16, while the adult education office was in Block 7 near the library office, the visual aids room, and the cosmetology school. [25]

Preschool Program

The preschool program operated under the supervision of the Superintendent of Education until early 1943, when a trained nursery school worker arrived at Manzanar. After the nursery schools were well organized, the supervisor was made responsible for the kindergarten program. Thereafter, the preschool program was administered under the principal of the elementary school.

During 1942-43, Manzanar authorities organized 18 nursery school units and seven kindergartens. Of the nursery school units, six were afternoon sleep sessions. The preschool units were housed in "regular elementary-school buildings scattered throughout the community." An undated map in the "Education Section" of the Final Report, Manzanar shows that nursery schools were located in Blocks 1, 9, 11,17, 20, 23, 30, and 32, while kindergartens were located in Blocks 1, 11, 20, and 31. Almost 1,000 children between the ages of three and six participated "in an environment which emphasized health, safety social and emotional adjustment, and mental development through wisely selected play materials."

Continuous "in-service training of evacuee teachers through field supervision, demonstration, and staff meetings was offered as a requirement since no credentialed teachers trained in preschool techniques and methods were available." More than one-half of the preschool teaching; staff were young English-speaking mothers of nursery-school children. Training courses covered subjects such as child development, techniques and methods, music, rhythm, arts, handicrafts, play materials, play yard equipment, child records, and administrative reports.

The parents of all children enrolled in the preschool automatically became members of a parent club that functioned in connection with a nursery or kindergarten unit. A central board, consisting of the chairmen of the individual unite, the preschool parent-coordinator, preschool supervisor, and president of the board selected at large, coordinated all phases of the preschool parent activities. All parents held membership in the national Parent-Teachers Association.

Parents shared in financing the preschool program and contributed "many hours of service" in constructing, maintaining, and beautifying the preschool rooms and equipment. A bazaar and quilting bee netted funds sufficient to finance equipment needs for more than two years. A monthly fee of 10 cents per parent enabled the children to have periodic parties.

Because of the relocation of most of their evacuee teachers during 1944-45, the preschools "were streamlined almost out of existence." Two of these teachers went to college to major in preschool education, and a number of others began to teach in nursery schools and child care centers outside of California. Despite the decline of the preschool program, however, all children of kindergarten age completed their kindergarten year. The success of the preschool program at Manzanar was shown in the children's ability to meet first-grade school requirements. In 1942, 25 percent of the children entering the first grade were unable to speak English. The children of the classes of 1943 and 1944, on the other hand, had attended preschool, and all of these children, except for one child who had been transferred from Tule Lake, were able to speak English when entering the first grade. [26]

Elementary School Program

The elementary school program was difficult to administer until the 1944-45 school year, when the various grades (kindergarten — sixth grade) were consolidated in Block 16. During the first two school terms, it was necessary to scatter classrooms throughout 12 different blocks — Block 1, Building 14; Block 3, Building 15; Block 5, Building 15; Block 9, Building 15; Block II, Building 15; Block 17, Building 15; Block 20, Building 15; Block 21, Building 15; Block 23, Building 15; Block 30, Building 15; Block 31, Building 15; and Block 32, Building 15. [27]

During 1943-44, the Manzanar elementary school was directed by Principal Clyde L. Simpson, "whose enthusiastic leadership put the elementary schools on a standard California public school basis." When Simpson was transferred to the relocation section in January 1945, Eldredge Dykes, the head high school teacher and an experienced school administrator, assumed his position.

The elementary school staff reached its greatest number during the spring of 1943, when it had 35 teachers and a supervisor of teacher-training, principal, vice-principal, and music supervisor. On May 29, 1945, when the Manzanar schools closed, the elementary staff included 17 teachers and a principal.

Standardized achievement tests were administered to all elementary children each year. A large percentage of the children had Nisei parents, which gave them "a better advantage in English performance." The scores of the elementary children, at each testing, "reached or exceed the national norms on all the skill subjects." They were especially "high in spelling and arithmetic computation." According to the Final Report, Manzanar, the center's elementary school curriculum "was like that of any other progressive California school which emphasizes the social studies program." The report further stated that the " school newspaper, the softball league games, the assembly programs, the girls' glee club, the rhythm bands, flute bands, and well-organized playground work all indicated matured activities that are not usually found in a three-year-old school." [28]

Secondary School Program

Leon C. High served as the secondary school principal during the 1942-43 school term. After leaving the center to accept employment as a school principal in a nearby town, Rollin C. Fox served as principal during 1943-45, completing "the organization of the high-school program," which was similar to that "found in any public school." The secondary school took over all of the barracks in Block 7. In addition, some classes were conducted in Block I, Building 8, Block 1, Building 15, and the ironing room in Block 7. [29]

In general intelligence, Manzanar's secondary students "stood at about the same level" as "students in the public schools throughout the nation" despite "a reading and language handicap." In age, Manzanar's secondary students "were somewhat younger than were students in Los Angeles city and county, and even San Pedro, the places from which the students came." Attendance "was better than average," but in "social adjustment, Manzanar's students were in need of continued significant help." According to the Final Report, Manzanar, "industry was good but spotty; initiative, generally weak; classroom participation, poor." Manzanar students presented fewer disciplinary problems than students in outside high schools, and most high schoolers found "that the standard for making an 'A' was higher at Manzanar than it was in their 'back home' school."

Manzanar's secondary school curriculum and instructional courses were similar to that found in the public schools. Five types of diplomas were offered: general, college entrance, commercial, homemaking, and agriculture. Manzanar did not have organized outlines for all of its courses, however, and this proved to be "a real handicap."

The secondary teaching staff was composed of appointed personnel and evacuees, the former comprising the majority. The evacuee teachers generally did not hold teaching credentials, although most of them had some teacher training. Evacuee teachers decreased in number much more quickly than did the student population. Turnover was rapid, and replacements were difficult to find.

Appointed teachers, all of whom held teaching credentials, worked closely with the evacuee teachers. Approximately one-half of the Manzanar high school teachers were California-trained and credentialed, the majority receiving some or all of their education at the Berkeley and Los Angeles campuses of the University of California and the University of Southern California. The center experienced difficulty in retaining teachers because "of the year-'round period of service required (as contrasted with the 10-month or shorter period in most public schools)." The ratio of one teacher to 35 high school students was below "the accepted minimum standard" for secondary schools, a situation that presented administrative difficulties in scheduling work loads. The center's inability to employ substitute teachers was also "a serious and an unsolved problem."

The secondary school enrollment "ranged from a high of 1,400 to a final of less than 600." In the standardized testing program the following "facts were discovered." Manzanar students were about "one year retarded as late as a year and a half from the closing of the schools." By June 1945, however, they were "at least average in most subjects, and above grade in some." They continued to be "deficient" in English composition and the "practical use of the rules of grammar." In "spoken language," they made "significant progress but were still retarded in enunciation, pronunciation, stage presence, and the like." In mathematics, they "fared better, but were nevertheless weak in general mathematics achievement in the upper grades." They were "slightly below average" in "comprehension, reading rate, and related areas."

At the conclusion of the first school year (1942-43), commencement exercises for Manzanar High School took place outdoors during the early evening of July 3, 1943. The emphasis of the program was on relocation and Americanism. Miss Sakuma, the class secretary, spoke on the subject, "Our Next Step — Relocation," urging those who relocate to keep in mind that they are "ambassadors of good will." The class president spoke on "The Problems of Minority Groups," reminding the audience that evacuees should not be bitter, because the problems faced by Japanese Americans were largely those faced by other minority groups. He urged a realistic and brave approach to the entire problem and a sympathetic understanding of the plight of other minority groups rather than preoccupation with the difficulties of those faced by persons of Japanese ancestry alone. Entertainment featured the Manzanar High School Choir singing the "Ballad for Americans," a patriotic piece of music. Taking his theme from the ballad. Project Director Merritt delivered the commencement address, pleading with the audience to remember that "this country is young and strong" and that "its greatest songs are still unsung." To those who asked why the barbed wire, the towers, and the soldiers, he answered that the final word on American race relations has not yet been stated. He recalled the vision of an America composed of many peoples who have given of their talents and asked the graduates to believe in America. Turning to relocation, he asserted that the country needed and wanted the "God-given talents of those of Japanese ancestry for work, for family loyalty, for the creation of the beautiful." [30]

One of the first events to be held in the newly-completed auditorium was the graduation ceremony for 177 seniors on June 18, 1944, Approximately, 1,200 evacuees and appointed personnel attended the event. Clad in traditional caps and gowns, the graduates received their diplomas from Superintendent of Education Genevieve Carter. Assistant project director Lucy W. Adams greeted the class and introduced the commencement speaker. Dr. Cecil Dunn, professor of economics at Occidental College, who spoke on the topic of "Peace and Our Responsibilities." [31]

Of the approximately 500 high school graduates from Manzanar, "not one was rejected by a receiving school for credits earned" at the center. A "better-than-average success" was also achieved by high school graduates who entered college. [32]

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Last Updated: 01-Jan-2002