42 Charter Oak Avenue
By Emily Santiago
After the turn of the twentieth century, there was a huge increase in population in Hartford and subsequent surge in the construction of houses and schools. The Betances school was opened in September 9, 1925, originally named the School of Kinsella in honor of Richard J. Kinsella, a mayor of Hartford from 1918 to 1920. The architectural firm that constructed the school was Whiton & McMahon, a firm that designed many churches, schools, and buildings in Hartford. 1
In present day, the elementary school Dr. Emeterio Betances is a public school that is at its original site in Hartford, Connecticut. It’s a building of brick and concrete with copper gutters and has an old New England architectural feel and style to it because of the two white columns in the front framing the entrance. The building is from an early twentieth-century New England style with a basement and three floors. A notable characteristic is the bars in the windows that are at the base of the school, which prevent potential break-ins and protect the school. in addition, there are portable trailers outside of the school that are used to accommodate the burgeoning population. The buildings around Betances are very similar in architectural styles, such as the church, the missionary, and the small market, Charter Oak Cultural Center and the residential area right across the street.
Betances Elementary is a school that focuses on multicultural education and involves its diversity of students of different racial ethnicities and economic backgrounds in its activities. Betances Elementary School is located in one of the poorest neighborhoods but in the most recent years the results of the Connecticut Mastery Test have some of the highest scores out of any school in the area. 2 Betances has grades pre-K through sixth grade.
The Betances school is in 42 Charter Oak Avenue, and was renamed after Ramón Emeterio Betances, who was a leader of the revolt in 1868 against the Spanish Empire in Puerto Rico. He is considered the father of the Puerto Rican nation and one of its bravest heroes. In 1985 the Puerto Rican Political Action Committee convinced The Board of Education to rename the school to Betances to aknowledge the increasing Puerto Rican presence in the school and in the neighborhood. In the same year, Edna Negrón Smith, a professional recruited from the island in the 70’s to assist with Hartford’s nationally groundbreaking program in bilingual education, became the principal of the renamed school. 3
The Betances school is near the heart of downtown. The children in this school are able to learn and develop their minds because of the cultural opportunities they are given that are reinforced outside school walls. About 80-85% of the children at Betances are Puertorriqueños4, and the school is affected by the socio-economic state of what surrounds it. The area around Betances school is residential, with apartments and a neighborhood of distinctly Hispanic culture; it is animated and hosts many businesses. A Boricua market sits directly across from the school. The elementary school is located near other buildings that make up the fundament of any Hispanic neighborhood, like churches and a missionary, which help children feel comfortable and safe in their surroundings. These “representational spaces” are “symbolic or cultural constructions made…by particular societies” 6 to reflcet their values and aesthetics. The building of the Charter Oak Cultural Center, which is a center for the development and furthering cultural knowledge, also influences the school community both culturally through programs and aesthetically through its presence in the neighborhood. The position of the school is significant in that “the space provides an anchor and a meaning” as to who its community is, which in turn shows that the space that this elementary school occupies is important in the definition of the city and contributes to the history and the city as a whole. 7
Hartford Courant, “Charter Oak Avenue School of South District Group.”
The Connecticut Historical Society Bulletin, Información biográfica de la firma de Whiton & McMahon.
Cruz José, Identity and Power: Puerto Rican Politics and the Challenge of Ethnicity, Pg.139
Lefebvre, Henri. Social Theory and the City, pg. 33
Lefebvre, Henri. Social Theory and the City, pg.35
Orum, Anthony and Chen, Xiangming. The World of Cities Places in Comparative and Historical Perspective, pg.1