The Rush is On

My hopes were set high on being admitted to the Instituto Nacional. Image thanks to

I had been  estranged from the neighborhood kids for some two summer vacations that I could remember.  I had been too preoccupied with nursing an old friend, and this summer the fracas with Rico had catapulted my reputation to a recognized “good boxer” status. Since then, however, I became known for being a reclusive kid. I neither discussed any of my activities with any of the neighborhood kids nor kept any of the teenagers from the area as close companions.  It just came to me as my best action plan to stay out of trouble.

I would sit quietly by my work station at the dental clinic waxing up what I called works of a “new art,” since my impressions were the nearest to perfect my mentor had seen and the clients were pleased with their fittings.  It started occurring to me that time was ticking away too quickly and that I had not gone to register for admittance to any class for the upcoming school year of 1951-52.  This would be my hallmark year to enter secondary school and I had my sights on The National Institute.

I knew that I couldn’t just show up alone requesting admittance to any school no matter what my grades had been. I then remembered that my Godmother, Maggie Moore, had been very impressed with me when I had ventured to show her my last report card from primary school down at the shop where she worked as a salesgirl.

She couldn’t stop marveling at my grades and even showed the report card to her boss. Maggie just bubbled over with hope for me and told me that my grades were good enough to land me a “scholarship.” That was enough to start me thinking that I had better talk to my Aunt Marie about accompanying me to the school for registration day. The rush was on!

It was some time in the second week of March that I walked, for the first time in my life, with my Aunt Marie, the most approachable, I guess, of my aunts. We walked from her house on Mariano Arosemena Street, a half a block down from our house in Magnolia Building, to the Instituto Nacional de Panamá, just one block off Fourth of July Avenue, to request admittance for the first year (seventh grade) class in the upcoming school year.

We quickly found the line of people snaking around onto the street from inside the school. It reached all the way outside, almost mid block away from the entrance. Needless to say there were a lot of hopeful kids there with their parents or guardians.

We waited patiently in line as I noticed that on the way there we had been quite talkative, but upon arriving at the school we became real quiet- as quiet as the rest of the expectant line of parents that accompanied their charges. By the time we arrived at fourth place in line from the screening professor I restrained myself from becoming nervous.

The professor stood at the head of the line with everyone’s eyes focused on him. He was the one to scrutinize each student’s sixth grade report card. He either directed the student to the window inside the administrative office or he told you to go home and apply to some other school. I had no doubt that I would be sent inside to the office to be given placement in the classroom that reflected my academic prowess.

I did notice up ahead of us that some students and their parents were being sent away saddened almost in tears. My composure started to slip a little and I hoped that my aunt would not notice my change in mood. Come to think of it, she had not even looked at my report card before we’d left to go to registration. “Come on move up here faster,” said the professor as the boy just before us stepped up briskly and handed his report card to the teacher.

“Señora,” he said crisply, “you had better look for another school, because with these grades he cannot make it here.” The crushed couple moved to the side disappointed.  I then stepped up quickly and handed my report card to the professor. Without looking at me fixedly, as I thought he would, the man took a good look at my grades and said, “These are really excellent marks young man, very good!” He then motioned to my Aunt Marie and said, “You can move over there to that window, Señora.” My heart jumped with triumph as we moved to the inside window where we had to wait again until the couple, usually mother and son, had been served.

In the meantime I noticed something in my Aunt’s eyes that I had never seen there before. It was something akin to a double take, as if she had seen it before but could not believe it was happening again. De ja vu, maybe? At any rate, we were handed some papers and my aunt signed my admittance sheet as my guardian. The woman behind the window then told me, “You are entering Primer Año “B,” joven.” (First year, group B). Suddenly, all the uncertainty was over for me and my aunt seemed pleased with how things had gone.  I was in!

As we made our way back home I became talkative again and my aunt just listened to me. As we came to the familiar entrance to Magnolia Building Aunt Marie said, “You don’t have to accompany me, Juni, because I am not going home. Tell my mother I will see her later!” With that we parted company.

After that brief encounter, I would hardly ever see her again.  But, I had appreciated my Aunt’s help in securing for me a spot for my secondary school education.

This story continues.

2 responses to “The Rush is On

  1. It is amazing how exceptional Panamanian school system was up to maybe the 1980’s with schools like El Instituto Nacional and Colegio Abel Bravo that students were able to receive such a great education.
    Students from many Panamanian high schools graduated with an International Baccaulaureate(Un Bachillerato).
    When I look at my Abel Bravo High school transcript I had already studied courses that were given at a universirty.
    In Abel Bravo, I studied Philosophy, Latin and Logic( as a subject). In my VI year or the 12th grade we had to write a thesis on Logic. Mi profesor de Logica was not an easy person to deal with. He was proud to be the most difficult professor in the College(Colegio).
    One of the beautiful thing that I have noticed with Abelistas and Aguiluchos(students from the Instituto Nacional) is that we were taught how to think, something that is lacking in the educational system now in Panama .

    • Anita,

      I concur with you in so far as your generation is concerned. It may have been that the military in power for part of our history encouraged the hiring topnotch teachers, foreign and nationals. I’m glad you were able to fully enjoy your secondary school experience.

      My experience was mixed. We, as Westindian students- especially at Instituto Nacional- often felt shunned and always anxious about being expelled by teachers who were very bigoted. In Abel Bravo, however, where I spent a couple of years of high school, we had many good Westindian teachers who made our experience in secondary school a better one. Seems like they understood the pressures we were under. But, I will go into this in future posts.