Students in two Arkansas schools have helped bring to life a disturbing period in their state’s history: its role in hosting two internment camps for Japanese-Americans that detained more than 16,000 citizens during the 1940s.
Students from Horace Mann Middle School and Fountain Hill School, a 7th through 12th grade school, have used virtual-reality technology, computer drafting design, and mapping to create projects about the two mostly forgotten, World War II-era camps near their schools in southeast Arkansas.
Built in 1942, the Jerome Relocation Center near Fountain Hill School housed Japanese-Americans from California and Hawaii until 1944. The Rohwer Relocation Center near Horace Mann opened and closed the same years and held families from California.
Fountain Hill students have mapped out the Jerome site, interviewed the private farmer who lives on the land, and met with a woman who safeguards much of the artwork created by people detained in the camp.
The students, who all take part in the schools’ environmental-and spatial-technology program, have also been invited to a conference in Little Rock in September that will bring together individuals and families housed in the two camps.
Miranda Burke, an 18-year-old senior at Fountain Hill who helped put together a documentary about the camp near the school, said the project had opened her eyes to an ugly period in American history.
“I was pretty stunned,” Ms. Burke said. “We say we’re the land of the free, but here we were imprisoning citizens because of the way they looked.”
The students’ work is a piece of a much larger project at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock called “Life Interrupted: The Japanese-American Experience in World War II Arkansas.”
Kristin Mann, an assistant professor of history at the university, said the project includes a curriculum unit for Arkansas elementary, middle, and high school students about the camps that has been written by master teachers in the state. A few schools are piloting the curriculum now; by fall, all schools in the state will be able to use it.
“The intent is to reach as many students and adults as possible,” Ms. Mann said, “and tell them the story of these camps.”