Mark S. Twain ES, (formerly Heidelberg ES/HS and Heidelberg ES #1) History

Opened: 1946
Closed: 2011

Heidelberg Elementary School was opened in October 1946. Originally, the school was part of a combined school for all grades and was called Heidelberg Dependent School. The first American school in Heidelberg was opened under the jurisdiction of the United States Army. School facilities were located at the University of Heidelberg. The school began with an enrollment of about sixty students, grades 1–12.  There was very little material to start with, almost no books or workbooks.  Everything had to be typed or mimeographed.

The school enrollment increased rapidly, and in 1949, the school moved to the Robert Bunsen School (a German school). In 1950, the elementary school was separated from the high school and situated across the street in another German school. The school was renamed the George W. Oxford Dependents School in memory of Mr. Oxford who was the former director of administration and personnel for the Dependent Schools Division. The elementary school now had a building of its own, with a playground, a library, and increased space. At that time, all Americans still lived on the economy.  There was no Mark Twain Village or Patrick Henry Village, for these areas were still farmland around Heidelberg.  As the housing and school problem became greater, the American government, together with the German government, decided to build Mark Twain Village, a housing area containing a new school.

In April 1952, the new Mark Twain Village School opened. A full-time elementary school principal was assigned. There were separate libraries for elementary and the high school, a gymnasium, an auditorium, and adequate classroom space. The teachers came from all over the United States, and the school served as a model for American school construction in Europe. 

In 1955, as a result of the Mark Twain Village School complex being too small for the total enrollment of the elementary school students in the Heidelberg area, ground was broken at Patrick Henry Village for a small school building for the first three grades. 

The school principal for the 1954 school year was Walter Ingram, and there were 1,134 students enrolled in the school.

In 1976, Heidelberg Middle School was constructed in Patrick Henry Village. The construction of this school created a major change in the Heidelberg school complex. With the new middle school, all sixth graders went to Heidelberg Middle School no matter where they lived. All students living on the economy were transferred from Mark Twain Village Elementary to Heidelberg American Elementary. Only elementary students who lived at Mark Twain Village attended the school there.

During the 1981-82 school year, there were five hundred students in grades kindergarten through five with seventeen classrooms teachers. The enrollment remained at five hundred through the eighties. In the mid-nineties the enrollment had dropped to just over 400 students.

A newspaper article published by the Army described the closing ceremonies of the school in 2011:

Students stole the show when they performed during the closing day ceremony for Mark Twain Elementary School in Heidelberg June 3.

“Goodbye, Mark Twain. Goodbye, Mark Twain. We’ll always remember you,” sang the 79 kindergarten through fifth grade students that make up the last classes of the school that opened in 1952.

The school may close but the name “Mark Twain” will remain, according to Heidelberg Mayor for Integration, Equal Opportunities and Citizen Services Wolfang Erichson. “We’re losing many friends and people,” he said following the ceremony. “We have an opportunity to develop all the land here … and we have decided to keep the names of the streets and villages.”

The high school auditorium was full of parents, teachers, students and administrators, past and present, who gathered to witness the final school day.

Students populated the stage wearing white T-shirts with Mark Twain’s image and the famous Heidelberg bridge.

They sang five songs, written by German host nation teacher Jenny Thouw, that sent personal messages to history telling of “the school with heart” bidding those gathered “Adieu.”

Interspersed among the speeches and songs were historical tidbits presented by the students onstage that began with “Did you know?” and chronicled the story of the school.

Most touching were the recollections of former students. Zach Harrington, now a high school senior, recounted how he had been too shy to give his second-grade teacher a valentine. Better late than never, he said, “Ms. Williams, will you be my valentine?”

Linda Williams, still a teacher, understood better than any in the audience why that evoked “aaahs” from the crowd.

Teachers were honored when Principal Dolly Crooks said, “A school is only as good as the person who stands in front of your classroom.” She also recognized the dozen former teachers who traveled there and introduced themselves and their best memories.

One retired teacher, Caroline Haberer, knew most all the people recognized at the front of the auditorium. She taught at Mannheim schools but the community of Department of Defense Dependents Schools teachers is small and she had formed friendships with many of those who had also traveled to the school Friday.

“The schools offer support because when the parents deploy, the schools are there,” Haberer said. “They provide continuity, stability, a warm and safe haven.”

Wife of U.S. Army Europe commander Sue Hertling was the keynote speaker who remarked upon the “rock solid” education students received at the school. Students also heard from garrison commander Col. Bill Butcher and Command Sgt. Major Annette Weber via video whose message to students was, “You rock.” Other speakers were DODDS Europe Director Dr. Nancy Bresell and Heidelberg School District Superintendent Frank Roehl.

It was Roehl whom Crooks credited when she recognized military families. “I was never in a meeting with him that he didn’t say to us, ‘Never forget who you’re serving, the men and women who serve our country,’” she said. “Nothing is more noble than putting on that uniform every day.”

Information from DoD School Information Guides, AOSHS archives and internet articles

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