By Karen Cortés
Retirement didn’t turn out exactly the way Hattie Beauchamp had planned, but next week, there will be seven Hispanic students who will reap the benefits of her volunteerism.
Beauchamp is Hispanic Coalition of Greater Waterbury’s scholarship program coordinator. Her efforts this year will culminate on Sept. 28, when the Coqui Awards are made at the coalition’s annual banquet and seven recipients will be awarded $1000 for post-secondary education.
Beauchamp retired two years ago after a career with the Waterbury Board of Education that spanned over three decades. In that time, Beauchamp rose to the rank of house principal at North End Middle School – the district’s first Latina in that role.
She began her career in Waterbury as a bilingual educator, teaching non-English speaking students academic subjects with a goal of transitioning the students into mainstream classrooms. “Most of the children migrated from Puerto Rico. They stayed in the bilingual program until they developed the skills to move on,” says Beauchamp.
In her earliest teaching years, her students studied in a basement classroom. “Students didn’t have the opportunity to mingle. People didn’t want the kids in the mainstream. There’s always resistance to innovation.”
Beauchamp’s parents came to New York from Puerto Rico, and the family relocated to Waterbury when she was 12. Her mother, who had just a sixth grade education, worked as a nurses’ aide, while her father worked at a local cemetery.
They always told me, “If you believe in something, do it. We don’t have much, but what we have saved will help you. I was first in my family to go to college. I would not let them down.”
Beauchamp was one of just three Latinos in her graduating class at John F. Kennedy High School. She recalls that the majority of her Puerto Ricans classmates did not attend high school, instead entering the workforce after completing eighth grade.
After graduation, she was the only one among her peers attending college. “I was surrounded by working people. I had no money for clothes or going out dancing. I would go back to my dorm to study and stayed on the path of college education.”
Beauchamp hopes that she can help today’s Latino students do the same. “My dream is to have a center for Hispanic students with resources to apply for college. Kids feel intimidated. They don’t ask for help. In most cases, neither parent has been to college. They’re overwhelmed by the process. The parents don’t know English. They just give up,” she says.
She earned her B.S. Spanish concentration, English as a second language from Central Connecticut State University, and an M.S. in elementary and bilingual education and a sixth year in administration and supervision from Southern Connecticut State University.
Upon her retirement, Beauchamp planned to volunteer one to two days a week for the Enlightenment Program, an alterative learning program for middle and high school aged students with behavioral and truancy problems. Those plans were derailed when she was seriously injured in a fall she took just a week before her last day of work.
“There were people who opened doors for me. Now it is my time to give back,” says Beauchamp. Volunteering aside, she is looking forward to finally taking a trip to Italy – a gift given to her in honor of her retirement.
Beauchamp is past treasurer and an active member of the Hispanic Coalition of Greater Waterbury, and has served on numerous committees aimed at helping the youth of Waterbury.
The 11th Annual Coqui Awards & Banquet is scheduled for Friday, Sept. 28, 2012 at the CocoKey Resort. This is a night to celebrate and recognize the outstanding Latinos of Waterbury. Sponsorship opportunities are still available. Please call, 203-754-6172 and ask for Angelica Medina.
By Karen Cortés