After more than 16 years of educating Japanese students in rural Tennessee, the Tennessee Meiji Gakuin high school will shut down in 2007.
The first accredited Japanese high school in the United States will stay open until the final class graduates in two years.
This month, the school opened for a new academic year with about 50 students in 11th and 12th grades, having phased out its programs in the 9th and 10th grades.
The school fell victim to long-running weakness in the Japanese economy and to parents’ concerns about sending their children abroad, particularly to the United States, after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, according to school leaders.
Ironically, after the board of the Christian-based school made its decision to close, a handful of Japanese students decided to transfer to the school from schools in Japan.
David Emanuel, the school’s principal, said that he is seeing renewed interest from both Japanese and U.S. students for a school that allows interaction between students from both countries.
He and other faculty members are considering their options for reopening another school in the U.S. for Japanese and other international students after Tennessee Meiji Gakuin shuts its doors.
“There are a pretty good number of us who want to see something continue after the next two years,” he said. “We haven’t given up hope.”
Tennessee Meiji Gakuin, a branch of a Japanese theological institution founded by Christian missionaries in the late 1800s, opened in 1989 on the campus of a former military school in Sweetwater, Tenn. It thrived during the 1990s as hundreds of Japanese students came to learn about the United States and its culture.
After seeing its enrollment decline significantly in the past three years, the school’s board of directors decided late last year that the 2006-07 school year would be the school’s last, even though the Japanese economy was improving and there was hope that the enrollment decline would ease.
The school runs on a year-round, April-to-March schedule, with shorter breaks than in traditional U.S. schools.
Although it is unlikely that the board will reverse its decision, the school’s staff pressured the board members to pledge not to lay off any employees before the school finally closes, and to continue to allow the remaining students to receive the same quality of education they would have received otherwise, Mr. Emanuel said.
Tennessee Meiji Gakuin will also continue to offer summer courses for U.S. students, and it has moved its annual cultural festival from the fall to June to allow U.S. students to also take part. Local companies in Tennessee have provided funds for 30 scholarships for the summer programs for American students, Mr. Emanuel said.