Asmara American Dependent School History

Opened: 1958
Closed: 1974

Asmara American School was located at Kagnew Station, an Army then Navy installation in Asmara, Ethiopia. The area where the school was located is now in the country of Eritrea. The school was referred to as Asmara American School; however, the first year it was named Robert E. Lee Dependent School. The school was an open-air design with a gigantic play yard in the center. The quadrangle of one-story buildings housed an elementary school and a small high school. The school opened in 1958. All three branches of the military were stationed at the base as well as civilian employees. The school did not have a cafeteria, so the elementary students ate at the NCO club and the high school students ate at the Oasis Club.

The American presence in Eritrea began before the U.S. entry into WWII by way of Roosevelt's lend lease agreement with Great Britain in 1941. A group of civilian engineers and aircraft mechanics from Douglas Aircraft were sent to Gura, Eritrea to help with repairs at the RAF airfield there. When Asmara was taken by the British, some of those technicians took control of Radio Marina per the British request. When the U.S. entered the war, the U.S. Army took control of the facility. The station was discovered to have a wide range ability to spy on all sorts of our enemies, including later the Soviet Union. Kagnew Station started out an Army communications station, and later became a joint command of Army and Navy. In the 1970's the Navy operated it.

The high school had varsity teams, dances and produced a yearbook like stateside schools. The first yearbook was published for the 1962-63 school year. The yearbook was The African to celebrate the school’s unique location. The yearbook shows that there were eleven teachers for the high school, twelve elementary teachers and a principal. The nurse and supply personnel were members of the military. During the first school year, there were eight seniors, fifteen juniors, twenty-two sophomores and twenty-one freshmen. School activities included student council and the newspaper “Anbasa”. There were clubs for science, shop, A-V, library, art, Future Teachers of America and languages. There was a band. The elementary had a safety patrol. Athletics for women included the Girls Athletic Association, cheerleaders, and a pep squad. There was a men’s basketball team that competed with area schools. The school basketball team was the Panthers. The yearbook highlighted the exchange program with a local Muslin School that included visits and sending American magazines to the school. The yearbook included photographs of Muslin students visiting Asmara American School.

According to Kim Medders, a former student, Haile Salassie visited Kagnew Station frequently, sometimes a couple of times a year. He used the Station's doctors and dentist for his health care. He also liked kids and most of the time he would make a point of visiting the school. They would set up a "throne" on the playground and the kids would often be allowed to pass by and greet him, sometimes with a handshake. He visited the school in 1963 when Kim was a student at the school.

According to the 1963-64 yearbook, the school had added several addition activities and sports. The girls had a club called the Brownbaggers that met at lunch and played basketball. The boys’ basketball team now played thirteen games during the season. Uniforms and equipment had arrived at the school for 6-man football. Additional clubs included the Letterman’s Club, home economics, chess, bridge and first aid. There were twelve faculty members with four seniors, eighteen juniors, twenty sophomores, fifteen freshmen and forty-eight seventh and eighth graders. The elementary had one sixth grade class, a five-six combo class, a fifth grade, two classes for kindergarten through fourth grades.

For the 1964-65 school year, the teaching staff was reduced to ten even though the number of seventh and eighth graders was now seventy with the same number of students in grades nine through twelve. The 6-man football team was the Spartans. Many more students were in the band and chorus and a drama club was established. New clubs included a Key Club, typing club and math club. The elementary school had three classes per grade level for first through third grade, two fourth grade classes, a fifth grade, a five-six combination class and a sixth grade.

The 1965-66 yearbook staff renamed the yearbook, Safari. A speech therapist, reading specialist and full-time librarian were added to the staff. An additional fifth grade class was added to the elementary portion of the school. For the first time, students played Addis Ababa in sports. There were two 6-man football teams, the Spartans and the Trojans. The basketball team was the Panthers. PowerPuff football was added for the ladies and both men and women competed in track. The enrollment remained stable; although there were nineteen seniors this school year.

January 12, 1967, His Imperial Majesty, Haile Selassie I, visited the school. This was a major event for the school. This school year, the school had its first assistant principal and thirteen teachers and approximately 140 students in the high school and 375 students in the elementary school. The basketball team was All Eritrea Champs. Junior Varsity football and a swim team were added to the athletic options.

During school year, 1967-68. His Imperial Majesty, Haile Selassie I, visited the school. According to the yearbook, the entire school cheered his majesty’s arrival. The principal accompanied the Emperor as he visited the new elementary classrooms for fifth and six graders where the students explained their work. The school newspaper was now called “The Gnu’s Paper”. The basketball team continued to play local Italian and Ethiopian schools and won the Invitational Tournament held at Kagnew Station. The yearbook highlighted the local people and their culture.

For the 1969-70 school year, the yearbook was Panther. The two 6-man football teams were the Raiders and the Spartans. The Girls’ Athletic Association was recognized as one of the most “active” organizations in the school. During the now annual visit by the Emperor, the chorus made a musical presentation of the song, “Hail, the Conquering Lion of Judah”, composed and scored by the music teacher, Mr. Nelson.

Driver’s Education was available for the first time during the 1970-71 school year. Additional activities included a girls’ shop club, a photography club, an African Studies Club, a Women’s Lib club and Future Nurses of America. The 6-man football teams were the Warriors and Spartans. The elementary school had half-day kindergarten this school year.

A brotherhood week was celebrated for the first time during school year 1971-72. It became an annual event at the school. The next year, the school had a combined choir for elementary and high school students.

The last yearbook of Asmara American Dependent School published a poem that summed up the experience of attending school there.

I live in Ethiopia, East Africa,
with confused mind and ignorant of what to expect
I find myself a stranger in a land different from all others –
abundant with a special kind of beauty, poverty, culture and tradition.
Alone with my thoughts I sometimes wonder . . .
And finally realize how paradoxical are the facets of my life here . . .
In the midst of this distinctive African country,
I encountered AADS where I am surrounded by a typical American high school atmosphere.
Now, in this final year, I reminisce . . .
And truly understand the totally unique experience I have been fortunate enough
To have lived through and I know – I will never forget.


Even in the final year of the school, there was an active activities and sports program. Four students were involved in the first Work/Study program and their job sites were the Dental Clinic, AFRTS, Special Service and the Public Affairs Office. The two 6-man football teams were the Giants and the Vikings. There were a Girls’ softball and a volleyball team. Additionally, the school had a coed tennis team and a weightlifting team. The elementary school had one class for each grade level. The school closed at the end of school year 1973-74.


Sources: The Italian Lesson and Other Hard Luck Stories by Kim Medders, et al; alumni; and school yearbooks

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