Balboa HS History

Opened: 1908
Closed: 1999

Balboa High School was originally named Canal Zone High School which opened in 1908. In school year 1910-1911 the school moved to a new location in Gatun. A picture of the new building can be found in the 1911 literary publication. The staff of the publication, the Zonian, described the building as one of the best looking in the Canal Zone. It was also stated that the school was “well equipped, light, roomy and cool.”

Since the new building was nearer to the center of things, it had the added advantage of convenience for students. The normal school hours for the high school were 1pm to 430 pm. Due to train schedules some students attended from 11 am to 330 pm, which required a great deal of independent study. The establishment of a shuttle train service made it easier for Cristobal students to get to and from school sessions. The train ride for students was forty miles each way every day and took several hours due to the number of stops. There was also a branch of the school established at Ancon where students from the Pacific side could take their freshman year.

The previous year all the high schools in Panama were consolidated into to one high school. School athletics were basketball and indoor baseball for boys and basketball for girls.

For the 1911-12 school year, the Canal Zone High School had an enrollment of seventy-five students which was an increase of fourteen students over the previous year. Some freshman and sophomore students were receiving their instruction in Ancon. During the 1912-13 school year the Canal Zone High School was reorganized. The main school was in Gatun and there was a four-year program at Ancon as well as freshman and sophomore classes at Empire and Gatun. These changes were made to reduce the train travel time for underclassman.

During the fifth year of the Canal Zone High School more changes in location were made. At the beginning of the year, first-, second-, and third-year students attended the Gatun branch. However, at the end of the semester, the Juniors were transferred to Ancon. During the first half of the year, Freshman and Sophomores attended school in Ancon. In February all students from Empire were transferred to Ancon.

The main school in Ancon provided for all Seniors on the Isthmus and the three lower grades for all students south of Pedro Miguel. By the end of February, all high school pupils except for the two years at Gatun, attended the Ancon school. The 1914 graduating class of nine graduates was the largest in the history of the school. The graduating class (11 students) of 1915 celebrated the fact that it received it diplomas the same year the Panama Canal was opened.

A new building was opened for the 1917-18 school year and it was called Balboa High School. The school colors were red and white. The school mascot was the Bulldogs. The 1918 literary publication states,

“A new concrete school has done wonders. We take legitimate pride in our school building. Looked upon from without, it presents a cheerful, academic appearance to the passerby. The interior, with its large, airy, and well-ventilated classrooms is the joy of the student who has suffered in our old, dingy building. The assembly room is equipped with new individual seats and is a pleasant and airy study hall.”

The editorial goes on to praise the science laboratory and soon to be filled library. The Class of ’19, made its debut at the National Theater in Panama on April 11 in “Just Jones”, a comedy. After the opening night, the play was also performed at Fort Amador, Gatun, Corozal, Culebra, Fort Sherman and Balboa. By this year, the high school had added separate track and swimming teams to its sports for men and women. The next year the school had a tennis team.

During the 1920’s Balboa High School’s school enrollment continually increased. In 1920 there were twenty-five graduates and eleven faculty members. By 1929 the number of seniors had increased to sixty-five and there were nineteen faculty members. The 1922 Zonian was referred to as an annual for the first time.

December 1, 1924, Gen. Pershing made his second visit to the school and spoke at an assembly to the students. Charles Lindberg visited the school on January 12, 1928, during a four-day visit to Panama. The students greeted him with a song that had been written by a class of ‘26 student.

During the twenties, soccer was added as a sport for men and bowling for women. Each of the literary publications up until 1929 had a section on alumni. The music department added a Glee Club and an orchestra with eleven students. Since the number of alumni was increasing, the 1929 yearbook only reported on the graduates from the previous three years.

Another highlight of 1929 was having “moving pictures” taken at the school. The first moving pictures were taken of a chemistry class, a domestic science class and the participants in the school play, “Lelawaia”. When these pictures did not turn out well, more pictures were taken on May 11th in the typewriting class, a physics class, students at assembly and some of the grammar school children in and around the school. The moving pictures were shown at the Clubhouse and then were on their way to the states.

The next decade at the school showed a continual growth in enrollment. Students from the areas of Pedro Miguel, Clayton, Corozal, Albrook Field, Balboa-Ancon, Quarry Heights, Amador and Panama City attended Balboa High School. The senior class in 1930 was eighty-two students and by 1939 was one hundred thirty-six students.

Throughout the 30’s there was an increase in student activities. Student clubs included the debating club (later called Citamard and then ProCon), the science club, the press club, Decimo Legio (Latin Club), Spanish Club, Elcrys (History Club), Engineering Club and an Athletic Council. There was a much greater emphasis on the arts. In October 1935 the school celebrated the dedication of the Carr Street Little Theater. A previous YMCA building was converted to a miniature theater equipped with a stage, dressing rooms and lighting facilities. For the next several years at least one drama production a month was presented by the drama society. In 1936 the school’s Little Theater became part of the National Theater Conference. That same year the newspaper was admitted to Quill and Scroll on its first application. The school’s music program was also enriched. Besides the orchestra and Glee Club, the school now had a band and produced an annual operetta.

In 1939 the school celebrated the 25th anniversary of its current building and the opening of a new gymnasium. With the opening of the new gymnasium every student was required to take two classes of physical education each week. During the decade, women’s volleyball and men’s handball, touch football and water polo were added to the sports’ program.

The 1940 yearbook changed the name from Zonian to Shrink. The name was changed back to Zonian the next year. The 1940 yearbook was the first yearbook to only feature seniors. This trend was maintained until the 1949 yearbook when group pictures of each class were included with the individual faculty and senior pictures. The yearbooks from 1942 to 1945 mentioned the problems getting paper, film and other items needed to publish the yearbook due to the war.

The 1942 yearbook mentioned the military defending “The Big Ditch” and was dedicated to the Armed Forces. In 1942 the school was moved to a new building that housed Balboa High School and the Canal Zone Junior College. That year a “B” Club was organized for men, it was like current Lettermen’s Clubs. In later years it was called the Lettermen’s Club. The Girls Athletic Association was formed for women. In 1943 the opening of the yearbook listed the young men who left Balboa High School to join the military. Students and faculty were listed by the branch of the military they joined.

During the 40’s the number of faculty members ranged from thirty-three to forty-eight. The senior class ranged from a high of 215 seniors in 1940 to a low of 120 seniors in 1944. During the war years activities supported the war eras. Activities such First Aid, Radio Club and the Victory Corps were added to the organizations. In 1948, the first National Honor Society was added to the extracurricular program. JROTC was added to the school’s curriculum in 1949.

The big sports events for the 1950’s was the football games between Miami-Jackson High School from Florida in the US and Balboa High School. The first game was played in 1951 when the Generals of Miami traveled to Panama to play the Panama Bulldogs. The yearbook reported that over 5000 fans watched the game. The following year the Panama team traveled to Florida. The staffing and enrollment remained steady during this decade. In 1956 four boys from Balboa attended the Ft. Clayton Boys’ State and three girls attended the Caribbean Girls’ State. In 1958 women were sponsors for the JROTC units. New organizations at the school included National Thespians, Future Teachers of America and Future Nurses of America. There was also a Pan-American Club for the first time. The senior class of 1959 totaled two hundred students.

The enrollment continued to grow in the sixties. When the 50th senior class graduated in 1964, the enrollment was about 1750 students. There were almost 350 graduates. During this decade several new extracurricular activities were added. In 1964 the Club de Conversacion y Cultura (CCC Club) was a new organization. The sports program added the Baton Twirlers and reactivated the Pep Club. In 1964 the Folk Singers’ Club and Future Homemakers of America were started. During the 1968-69 school year, additional clubs included the Future Business Leaders of America and the Future Secretaries Association. In 1995 a new language lab was added to the school and the school published Isthmian Inklings, a literary collection of short stories, essays and poems. Archery was added to the sports offerings.

A special event for Panama and the school was the visit of Bob Hope and his retinae of stars in December 1960. A Zonian staff member was able to meet Mr. Hope and asked him to choose Mr. and Miss Zonian of the year. Mr. Hope agreed and the photographs of twenty seniors, ten boys and ten girls, were sent to Hollywood. The winners were chosen based on these pictures and were announced in the ’61 yearbook.

The 1964 yearbook celebrated the 50th anniversary of the canal opening and the school’s 5th commencement. The yearbook reported that the current location of Balboa High School was originally swampland. This same yearbook noted,

“The first Balboa High School was a two-story wooden frame building, which later was replaced by the present-day Balboa Elementary School. The white concrete building bore the name of Balboa High School for approximately 18 years, until 1942, when our high school was finally constructed.”

The 1962 yearbook has several pictures of the campus and its buildings. September 1965, the school only had grades ten through twelve due to the constant enrollment growth.

Prior to the 1972-1973, girls were listed as sponsors of units in JROTC. During that school year, there were entire companies of women. The Afro-American club became a part of the extracurricular organizations. The following year, honor societies for Biology and Spanish were begun.

In the 1980’s there were multiple teams for several sports. For example, there were four separate football teams.

Resulting because of the Carter-Torrijos Treaty of 1977 the area where Balboa High School was located was turned over to the Panamanian. At that time, the school consisted of three connected buildings, a shop directly across the street, a gymnasium, and stadium area located behind the school, and an auditorium on the southwest corner of the property.

Extensive remodeling at Balboa High School occurred in the 1980s. New computer and science labs were installed, and the shop building was totally renovated. Carpeting was installed throughout the school. New furniture and study carrels were added to the library. Additionally, increased electrical wiring was installed to allow utilization of computers in the classrooms and an elevator was added to assist the handicapped. Concurrent enrollment between the high school and junior college was started in 1986.

When Balboa High School became part of the DoDDS system in 1979, the enrollment for grades seven through twelve was 1,213 students. From the fall of 1987 to the fall of the following year, the student population declined dramatically. This was a direct result of the political situation in Panama and this trend continued for the remainder of the decade. The enrollment in January 1990 was only six hundred forty-four students. Panama and the school were directly affected by Operation Just Cause. Two teachers and the child of a teacher were killed during the military operations.

Curriculum changes in the 1980s included adding word processing and computer science courses which included updating the necessary equipment. A cooperative work program was instituted to allow students to receive credit for work experience. Advanced Placement English and Spanish courses were offered. A peer helping program was begun to encourage students to help each other. During school year 1989-90 a graphics program was added to the art department.

In 1996 freshmen were again included in the yearbook. The school was closed June 1999.

Sources: Yearbooks in AOSHS archives
Schooling in the Panama Canal Zone 1904-1976, DoDDS Panama 1979-1989

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