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La Escuelita The Bilingual Education Public School

La Escuelita

The Bilingual Education Public School

321 Ann St.

“The influx of children for whom English is a second language has been so sharp-with their numbers rising about 46 per cent over the past four years-the programs do not pretend to be able to cope with all the problems…efforts this year will promote progress…”[1]

History of the building

The structure that stood on 321 Ann St. is now only a vague memory. It sat astride busy 84 West near the corner Ann and Chapel Streets, diagonally across the Civic Center, now the XL center. The building is the former St. Patrick’s /St. Anthony’s parish school, a.k.a. Ann Street School, a.k.a. “La Escuelita”. The structure was built in 1896 as a parish school for St. Patrick’s, Hartford’s first Catholic Church. The Church owned the school property and an adjacent parking lot, an area that totaled 1.3 acres. The building was 108 feet wide with its front elevation towards Ann Street. It was 140 feet deep and three stories high, with a high basement because Hartford in that era used to flood frequently.

The façade was of common brown brick enhanced with long meadow stone and terra cotta just above water level, with Portland stone below. It had two arches in the front that once provided separate entrances: South for boys and North for girls. At the top of the steps leading to the entrances where outside vestibules measuring 10 x 9 feet, and directly behind was a hallway 10 feet wide and 90 feet long. There were six classrooms on each floor measuring 26 x 30 feet. At the west end of the hallway’s first floor was a stairway leading up to second and third floors. The bathrooms were located just off the landing of the upper floors. A skylight in the roof admitted light into the center of the structure down through a well opening of the second and third floors. On the third floor the rooms were arranged by partitions that could be removed to create a large audience hall. The edifice was heated by steam and the ventilation was of the most modern methods used in that era. The school had a playground in the rear of the building. The total cost to construct the school was $50,000.

The new building was a sight to be seen at the turn of the twentieth century, and at its inception only the most affluent attended the parish school. By the time La Escuelita (via the Board of Education) leased the structure in 1972 it was lacking modernity, needed much repair, and it no longer had a playground. Still, the edifice housed La Escuelita for 10 years before it was torn down in August of 1982. The school was designed by Hartford architect John J. Dwyer, and at the time of its demolishment was historically and architecturally significant; however due to the Church’s opposition due to the lack of renovation funds, La Escuelita never made it on the register of historic places. A municipal garage that was destined to replace it was never built. Today the space is a gaping hole within the community, for it is just an old empty lot collecting litter.

History of the school-A first in the nation

La Escuelita is a legend in the community.

“The community knows the children have to learn English to integrate themselves into the American society”[2]

In September 1972 La Escuelita was established after much opposition from the Hartford Federation of Teachers which claimed that the bilingual school would be detrimental to the children. The Federation expressed that the program “would shelter Puerto Ricans from the necessity to learn English,” but most importantly La Escuelita seemed to many as a threat to the ‘American’ way of life. The bilingual program put Puerto Rican teachers in jobs that without it could have been handled by teachers already within the system and in Connecticut. Mrs. M. Sue Ginsberg, Board of Education Secretary was reported to having been said that her concern is that “even the best of programs could create a ‘ghetto’ in the school system'”.[3] The school was to address the high Puerto Rican drop out rate. It was thought that bilingual education was the best way to address the issues of language barriers, social skills and to facilitate the integration into the American mainstream. The program defied the traditional swim-or-sink philosophy held throughout previous immigrations. The Puerto Ricans in Connecticut were holding fast to their culture and history. They worked rigorously to maintain their language and customs while at the same time learning the new ‘American’ way. La Escuelita is proof of their tenacity.

La Escuelita abrió sus puertas as the first school in the nation to dedicate its curriculum to bilingual education. It began to serve 200 bilingual students who varied in English and Spanish speaking abilities. The classrooms were small and grouped by grade and language ability. At its inception the school served preschool through grade three. By 1975 La Escuelita “would serve 274 Spanish speaking students from pre-kindergarten to grade five, under [a] new funding proposal La Escuelita will serve 355 children up to grade six.”[4] The school would then feed directly into Quirk Middle School.

Due to the differences in learning and levels of language mastery the students worked with teachers and aides individually as well as in groups. The classes were labeled Spanish dominant, English dominant and transitional. The child was placed in a class after a standardized examination that would determine his/her level and then that child would be taught basic skills: reading, writing and arithmetic all in the language he was most at ease in. Listen to mayor Eddie Perez talk about his experience with bi-lingual education.Listen to mayor Eddie Perez talk about his experiance with bi-lingual education.

The teachers were a group of new educators, who had participated in the University of Hartford’s bilingual teacher corps. The program trained bilingual teachers, and in its first year it “trained 30 teachers, who served as interns while they earned undergraduate degrees.”[5] Another 26 were in a master’s program also teaching while earning their degrees. The majority of the participants was recruited from Puerto Rico and received $90 a week and free tuition. “The program was developed in part to train teachers for Hartford’s bilingual school and for other city bilingual classes.”[6]

Listen to Glaisma Perez-Silva speak about her arrival to Hartford.

Although the building lacked important modern facilities like a library, an assembly hall and a playground, the school was run by and for the community, and for this the Puerto Rican Spanish-speaking community looks back and points to with pride. The school’s unique Spanish and English instruction served as a model for bilingual education and brought visitors from all over the country. The theory was that “each child learns best in his native language. Once they have basic skills in their mother tongue…they can transfer them to a second language”[7]

Another strategy used to ‘help’ the students acculturate was by parents insisting that the gym teachers instruct students how to play games their ‘American’ counterparts did; this would facilitate socialization amongst peers outside of the school. The children also ate American-style lunches, and the school instituted the American-style safety patrol for the hallways. It is important to note that the school also gave the students a good background in Puerto Rican History and culture, for it saw the value in students learning about their roots. “Pictures if Puerto Rican Heroes along side John F. Kennedy and the words of La Borinquena, the Puerto Rican national anthem stand beside the words to the Star Spangled Banner. Maps of Puerto Rico and the United States graced the walls of many classrooms.”[8] The school was expected to serve as a central example of needs-based education for the city, and subsequently each school in Hartford was expected to modify its basic program to fit the particular needs of its student population.

La Escuelita was funded by a special grant from the federal Department of Health, Education and Welfare as well as the city Board of Education and the Model Cities Program. Although all of these governmental agencies have had an impact on the school, it was the Spanish-speaking parents whose involvement helped plan the school that gave it much of its success. The school also served as a community space where ESL classes were taught and community meetings were held.

In spite of (or perhaps because of) its innovative educational practices, La Escuelita was in a continued state of threat. The old school was slated for demolition before La Escuelita moved in; it was never intended to stay in that space for as long as it did. Councilman Nicholas Carbone explained the City’s plans for a Municipal garage would “eliminate the Ann Street site. He also expressed that the city would most likely not have enough money to cover the cost of renovation of “the Chestnut site”.[9] According to Mr. Carbone the city had three options in regards to La Escuelita: to find outside funding sources to convert the Chestnut site ($825,000), to find another site, or to leave La Escuelita where it was and expand the garage in another direction. Mrs. Maria Sanchez who was chairman of the Ann Street Bilingual Community School Steering Committee of parents made it clear that if the school was to stay at its current site it had to be renovated. She also asked Mr. Carbone to give a commitment as to the length of time the school would be housed in the building. Councilman Carbone agreed to ask city officials to present an estimate on the cost of renovation. The cost of the renovation was $44,000 which came from bond unspent capital improvements money. The renovations included painting, partitions in classrooms, window repairs and new shades, improved lighting, the creation of storerooms in the basement and an improved heating system. However, several major renovations that were recommended by the City Fire Marshal were not done. The city sought a waiver for those items.[10] Ultimately La Escuelita was moved to another existing school in the neighborhood, Barnard Brown elementary school, and was pretty much dismantled in 1983 to make way for the new model of bi-lingual education within ALL Hartford public Schools.

Many of the students that were educated at La Escuelita found that they had something their friends did not. They were allowed to have a sense of who they were and where they came from. At the school they learned Puerto Rican history and the Spanish language. In retrospect many of their counterparts coming to Hartford from Puerto Rico who were not able to attend La Escuelita most often than not found through the system that being Puerto Rican was not something to celebrate. Many began to feel ashamed of their culture and their language; they struggled to assimilate academically as well as socially, and they often dropped out of school.

The lasting gift that La Escuelita gave students according to La Escuelita social worker Glady’s Hernandez, was “a climate that allowed the child to rejoice in being himself and his language,”[11] the opportunity to know who they were and what they were, along with a foundation that would not allow anyone to demean them based on cultural assumptions.


[1] “Bilingual Programs Increasing in City.” The Hartford Courant (1923-1984) [Hartford, Conn.] 19 Aug. 1973,12I. ProQuest Historical Newspapers Hartford Courant (1923 – 1984). ProQuest. Trinity College, Hartford, CT. 4 Mar. 2009 <http://www.proquest.com/>

[2]ELISSA PAPIRNO. . “Puerto Rican Children Getting Bilingual Education at La Escuelita. ” The Hartford Courant (1923-1984) [Hartford, Conn.] 28 May 1973,33. ProQuest Historical Newspapers Hartford Courant (1923 – 1984). ProQuest. Trinity College, Hartford, CT. 4 Mar. 2009 <http://www.proquest.com/>

[3] BILL GRAVA. . “Official Says Sex Education Neglected. ” The Hartford Courant (1923-1984) [Hartford, Conn.] 16 Mar. 1978,44. ProQuest Historical Newspapers Hartford Courant (1923 – 1984). ProQuest. Trinity College, Hartford, CT. 4 Mar. 2009 <http://www.proquest.com/>

[4]JACKIE ROSS. . “Board Backs Plea For School Funds. ” The Hartford Courant (1923-1984) [Hartford, Conn.] 19 Feb. 1975,24. ProQuest Historical Newspapers Hartford Courant (1923 – 1984). ProQuest. Trinity College, Hartford, CT. 4 Mar. 2009 <http://www.proquest.com/>

[5] ELISSA PAPIRNO. . “UofH To Lose Bilingual Teaching Funds. ” The Hartford Courant (1923-1984) [Hartford, Conn.] 24 Apr. 1974,57. ProQuest Historical Newspapers Hartford Courant (1923 – 1984). ProQuest. Trinity College, Hartford, CT. 4 Mar. 2009 <http://www.proquest.com/>

[6] Ibid.

[7] ELISSA PAPIRNO. . “Puerto Rican Children Getting Bilingual Education at La Escuelita. ” The Hartford Courant (1923-1984) [Hartford, Conn.] 28 May 1973,33. ProQuest Historical Newspapers Hartford Courant (1923 – 1984). ProQuest. Trinity College, Hartford, CT. 4 Mar. 2009 <http://www.proquest.com/>

[8] Ibid.

[9]DAVID S BARRETT. . “School Conversion Cost Higher Than Expected. ” The Hartford Courant (1923-1984) [Hartford, Conn.] 8 May 1973,35. ProQuest Historical Newspapers Hartford Courant (1923 – 1984). ProQuest. Trinity College, Hartford, CT. 4 Mar. 2009 <http://www.proquest.com/>

[10] DAVID S BARRETT. . “Bilingual Facility To Retain Site. ” The Hartford Courant (1923-1984) [Hartford, Conn.] 5 Jun 1973,34. ProQuest Historical Newspapers Hartford Courant (1923 – 1984). ProQuest. Trinity College, Hartford, CT. 4 Mar. 2009 <http://www.proquest.com/>

[11] JACKIE ROSS. . “Parents, Graduates Proud At La Escuelita Ceremony. ” The Hartford Courant (1923-1984) [Hartford, Conn.] 12 Jun 1976,10. ProQuest Historical Newspapers Hartford Courant (1923 – 1984). ProQuest. Trinity College, Hartford, CT. 5 Mar. 2009 <http://www.proquest.com/>

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