Canal Zone Schools

Balboa Elementary

Balboa ElementaryThis image of Balboa Elementary School is undated.  Can anyone help us add a date to its record?  Perhaps the car on the right hand side is a clue?

Please share your fond memories of Balboa Elementary school with us (and each other!) in the comments section below.  Did you have a favorite teacher?  What made being a student at Balboa Elementary great?


  • Nina Brown Kosik

    A group of us had an email circulating that asked how many of the addressees had been lucky enough to have Betty Ryan teach our 1st grade — quite a few remembered their good fortune When I was driving visitors around through past years, we always stopped at the school & the security guard let us in. First stop was to that room & a warm welcome from the very nice secretary now working “in the back of the class”, with her boss not in at the time. She enjoyed hearing us tell of our young presence in her now space & some even walked over to where they remembered sitting. I was certainly impressed by that act. Miss Ryan’s room was in the front at the far left, & her view out the window was of a magnificent corotu tree in what is now Goethals park (the tree is still there, lo these 70 years later & it was full grown even then). We had all of our recess activities in that park — Red Rover, dodge ball & kickball, mostly. Don’t remember if we played ring-a-levio, though as there aren’t many places to hide (but always at night when we got home from school). The graceful patio in the center of the school was the centerpiece of Christmas concerts & any other activities multiple classes would be involved in (I remember (vaguely) a display of arts & crafts).

    I was at Balboa Elementary only through 4th grade, then to Gamboa, but I remember these teachers: 1st — Betty Ryan & Alice Drew; 2nd — ? Prothero & ?; 3d — ? MacDonald & ? — 4th ? Gherke (m. Wallace) & Burns (“Miss Gherke had a turnkey, & Miss Burns burned it”). The principal was Ida Erickson, who had been a construction day teacher, & earned a Roosevelt Medal for her service. Miss Erickson wore her hair in a tight bun, with untrimmed glasses & dressed as severely as her demeanor. She scared the wits out of the little kids, unintentionally.

    BalboaHS graduated its first class in 1943 in the new building, but before that time, BHS was in this elementary school on the top floor, My dad, John L. Brown, graduated in 1928; mom, Emma E. Van Clief in 1932; plus three aunts — Ruth E. Brown, Dorothy J. Brown (m. Robertson) & Helen Van Clief (m. Leves).

    • Nina Brown Kosik

      PS — I know there is a bell tower, but I don’t remember ever either seeing or hearing it.

      Also, most teachers at that time were female. If they wanted to marry, they had to quit their job. This happened to Miss Geherke when she married Mr Wallace, & quit. In junior high school (late 40s), we had Helen Currier Baker (Mrs Baker) & Theodora Campbell (Mrs C) but they were older & were widows. Miss Currier had been my mother’s teacher in high school before 1932. At BHS in the early 50s, Pat Farley quit to marry Dwight Van Evera. But Framces Zimmerman forced them to change that preposterous rule when she married Gordon Graham. (The things we remember!)

      • carolyn rowley dillon

        Hey Nina, my mother lost her job at Gatun also when she married in 1944. Hard to imagine in these days!

  • Old Chuck

    tHIS BUILDING WAS THE HIGH SCHOOL WHEN IT WAS FIRST BUILT. i DON’T REMEMBER THE YEAR OF CONSTRUCTION. As with Nina Kosik I attended first and second grades in the elementary sschool. I believe my parents attended high school in the building. That would have been around 1924.


    I believe this picture was taken sometime in the 40’s but I’m not too sure about it!!!!!!!!! Diane French

  • Kat Warren

    Balboa Elementary School never was a high school; it was purpose built as an elementary facility. Teachers I remember: Mrs. Ashley (third grade), Miss Sequist (second grade), Mrs. Laatz (fourth grade), late ’50s. Principal during my time there was Mrs. Neal and she was egregious.

    • Bob Zumbado

      Balboa High School was built in 1942. Prior to that high school aged children had to go somewhere. If you look closely at the facade of this building, it is labeled Balboa School. Logic would indicate, though not prove, that this building may have been used for all grades through 12 until the work force grew and children increased to where a separate High School was needed…so I think Nina is correct and it was indeed at some point a high school as well as an elementary school….anybody old enough to truly remember?? I came to this school in Jan 1946 in the same class as Nina Brown Kosick, Chuck Hummer and others of BHS 1955. I remember in 6th grade being assigned as a crossing guard off loading contemporaries off the school buses and wearing white web Sam Brown belt with shiny brass buckle and having teachers named Milavetz, Mauldin, Gerke….recess where the Goethals monument was later built….playing marbles in the dirt under the Red Cross building which was the first house on Morgan Avenue leading from the school…I lived in quarters 879X on Morgan avenue overlooking the Flats. Many fond memories of that place, that era and so many wonderful people…Hinkle, Beckley, Crooks, Stevens, Brown, Hummer, Jennison, Gibbs, Lee, Hart…on and on.

    • Jim

      Jim Sweeney
      Prior to being an elementary school it was also a high school. I think they had the high school classes upstairs and the elementary down stairs. I met a guy who attended high school there when we lived in Panama. Balboa high school was build in the 1940’s and moved over there to the new building, though I think the stadium and gym predated the “new” high school building that became BHS. All of my kids graduated from Balboa Elementary School, played in the gym under the supervision of Coach Flynn, hit the tether balls outside, played sports on the field, explored the Orchid Path going up to Balboa Heights, and sometimes saw marmosets playing there. I remember they put out flags of all the states in the beautiful courtyard at the center of the school. Behind the building was the gym in a low, tin roofed building. A little above the school was the softball field, where they had baseball games, girls softball, and we practiced flag football for a while.

  • Jerry Bliss

    Attend Balboa Elementary K (1945) thru 4th grade. Two teachers names I recall were Drew and McDonald. For 5th grade I was at Ancon and 6th was a Diablo. Left the CZ in 1950 for CA.

  • David Hilliard

    I know I attended grade school there but I don’t know for how long or who my teachers were. Nina and Bob “Zombie” Zumbado probably have the best recollection

  • Clea

    I believe I heard, when I was growing up that before it was a school it was the one of the headquarters of the Isthmian Canal Commission before the Administration building was completed.

  • Clea

    Shortly after the riots of 1964 my family moved from Ancon to Balboa Heights. I transferred from Ancon Elementary school to Balboa Elementary school and attended second grade through sixth grade. I can remember Mrs. Caldwell (her family hailed from Chile and she told stories of destructive earthquakes) who was a gym teacher, Mrs. Hern, another gym teacher, Mr. Follett was my sixth grade teacher, Mrs. Duker was fifth. Mrs. Wallace taught penmanship. Mrs Pilley was third grade and I can’t remember the names of either my second or fourth grade teacher. Mrs. Neal was the principal. We had a Spanish teacher and there was a Speech Therapist. The school system offered summer school classes as well. You could take enriched reading, math, or music. They also offered an arts and crafts program, as well as intramural type sports, basketball, swimming classes, archery, etc.

    During the 60s the school had the students routinely practice duck and cover drills under our desks. Something about a place called Cuba having a bomb.

    I recall having to walk to school and would cut through the administration building on my way down the stairs to school. Going home at lunch time and the end of the day meant climbing up all those stairs in front of the administration building. Lots of stairs for little legs. Walking to school was considered at that time for elementary aged school children to be safe for the most part. However, I do recall one incident while walking to school as a small child that made me wonder now as an adult how safe that practice was back then even for the Canal Zone. Fortunately a neighbor, Mr. Dryja happened to be walking to work to the Administration Building and intervened on my behalf, when the stranger in the white car kept following me with his car and spooked me.

    Most of the kids attending Balboa Elementary lived in the Balboa area, Students were also bused in from Ancon when Ancon Elementary school was closed down and the military kids from Quarry Heights also attended Balboa. We also had Panamanian students from downtown Panama City attend the school as well.

    The elementary school fielded each year sporting competitions against the other elementary schools in the Zone–The Balboa Relays. The school had yearly concerts in the patio of the school. If memory serves me right, Mrs. Egolf was the music teacher. I believe classes started at 0800 and by 3:15 we were done for the day. We had a lunch hour (you could either go home or bring a sack lunch). The school had organized activities either in the gym or outside until classes resumed after lunch. The teachers taught the core subjects, math, English, geography/history, etc., In fifth grade you were given a very cool pen and taught penmanship by Mrs. Wallace. You also received a grade for Conduct/citizenship for each grade. We had parent/teacher day each year. Students competed yearly in the presidential fitness program and the school routinely checked each child’s dental hygiene. The examination card was to be given to your parents. Booster shots were also given in mass at school. Report cards had to be signed by your parent.

    By the time I attended Balboa Elementary school it had two flag poles and the school patrols were responsible for raising and lower the flags each day. During sixth grade, I was named Captain of Patrols. I originally wanted to be a teacher when I was growing up in the Canal Zone but the behavior of one particular teacher of mine at Balboa Elementary school who kicked a dog down the stairs made me switch careers that very day–I practice law now–that teacher had been my most favorite teacher at the school.

  • grammabd

    I was in 10th (1956-57) and 11th (1957-58) – It seems like there was a junior college that I took some business classes in – right there beside the High School – am I thinking right? I just can’t remember anymore!

  • Kathy Kent

    I will always be grateful that I had the opportunity to teach 5 th grade at BAlboa Elementary from ’72-76. I was a first year teacher, first year of marriage and the first time living away from my home in Pennsylvania. “Mrs. Manners”…was my name, and oh how I loved it all. As I venture into my late ’60’s, it is pure joy to go back and think of those fond memories. Still remember so many of my students’ names.
    Thank you “kids”–you all were wonderful as was the experience of living and working in the Panama Canal Zone.

  • Michael R Hanono

    Late 60s, early 70s. Principal was Mrs Neal. Mrs Caldwell was a gym teacher. Mrs Kime (K), Mrs Townsend (1st) instilled a live of reading and science with egg hatching projects, Mrs Gibson (2nd), Mrs Serger (3rd) best social studies- we wanted homework, Mrs Durham (4th), Mrs Wanda Jenkins (5th) made the class go to a higher level with Open Court curriculum, Mrs Quick (6th) young and modern. Mrs Patterson taught Spanish. The last few years we had teaching assistants from Penn State. All the teachers were excellent, very professional, very caring. They taught all subjects except gym and Spanish. Many classrooms had a piano and most of my teachers played well. Two flagpoles. I also was captain of patrols in sixth grade- I still have my badge. Great education!

  • Margaret Biava Kauffman

    I was one of those lucky kids that got to live in the city and go to school. In the zone. My dad worked at the American Embassy from 1963-1965 and then again from 1972-1974. Don’t remember much of the first trip as i was just a baby but know that we were there during the riots and were evacuated into the Canal Zone. Second time I went to 5th and 6th grade at Balboa Elementary. I had Miss D’Angelo for 5th grade and Mr. Decina for 6th grade. I remember having such a blast at recess playing teather ball and four square. I was a patrol both years that i was there and was sad when I returned to the states and couldn’t continue. Mr. Decina was one of my favorite teachers of all my schooling. He used to read to us every day between recess and Spanish class as it was only about 20 mins. He instilled my love of reading and will never forget the wonderful books that he read to us. On a side note my dad grew up in Panama in the 30’s and 40’s. He lived in Gamboa and graduated from BHS. His dad worked for the Pan Canal Company. He loved his years in Panama and shared many stories with us of his time there.

  • Cynthia Nester

    In 1950 I went to third grade at Balboa Heights. Teacher was Miss Hittson.. tall blonde and I thought she was beautiful. We lived in the Canal Zone in military housing although my father was a physician and not military. I rode on a military bus to school with the driver and a soldier in attendance. I remember that it rained everyday around 3 pm when we were going home. Also remember military jeeps spraying DDT in the residential area. Are there any class photos or yearbooks from that time?

  • Jim Jenkins

    Photo is 1938 or possibly 1939. Car is on the left side of the Prado. In 1943 traffic switched to the right side.

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