Remembering Spanish School
by Tim Delaney
Mar 16, 2013 | 3051 views | 4 4 comments | 17 17 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Mike Beltran
Mike Beltran
Mike Beltran with his third-grade class at the Spanish School. Beltran has his arms crossed. Mrs. Burke, the teacher is shown at far right.
Mike Beltran with his third-grade class at the Spanish School. Beltran has his arms crossed. Mrs. Burke, the teacher is shown at far right.
Not many people know about the old Spanish School, at least that is one name that it was called. The official name is not known.

The old school is a part of Refugio County history.

But Ishmael “Mike” Beltran, 83, remembers it well because he attended classes in the school.

The Spanish School had three grades: first through third and was located where the apartments are on Osage Street on the side of the U.S. post office.

At the time, Osage Street was a dirt road.

“My mother went to school there and my dad, too,” Beltran said.

His mother, Elvira Beltran, is now 99 years old.

He said his mother made it through the second grade, but his dad only made it through the first grade.

The staff at the school told Beltran’s dad to learn at school or take a whipping.

“He took the whipping,” Beltran said.

Beltran well remembers his three years at the school.

“They were pretty strict. Oh yeah, we learned to keep your mouth shut,” he said.

He said his first-grade teacher was very nice: Mrs. Coward.

“Her husband worked for the O’Connors,” he said.

But second grade was different.

Beltran said the normal punishment for being bad was a slap on you hand with a ruler.

“She made me roll up my pants and whipped me with an electrical cord,” he said. “They got rid of her.”

For obvious reasons, Beltran can’t remember the teacher’s name.

Then his third-grade teacher proved to be the nicest.

“She was a short lady, Mrs. Burke,” he said. “She was really nice.”

All through the three years of the school, one thing was certain: “If you weren’t paying attention, you’d be in trouble. You weren’t allowed to chew gum, and if they caught you, they’d stick it on your nose till the end of the day,” he said.

“I figured if I was going to learn anything, I’d better shut up and listen.”

Beltran said he began to understand the reason for the school after the first grade.

“When I got to the second grade, from what I could understand, we were told we couldn’t go to the white school until we knew how to speak English,” he said.

Beltran, however, knew how to speak English.

“I learned English from playing in school and playing with kids. I remember really well that I could read a little bit in first grade,” he said.

He remembers the Anglo family next door, too.

They were the Johnsons, who had a daughter named Gladys.

“We played together. She ended up being Gladys Claybrook,” he said.

Beltran said he was at the school during the Great Depression.

“I ate at school. I ate the whole thing except the vegetable. They made me come back and eat it when I was at recess,” he said.

Speaking of recess, most kids took off their shoes if they had them when they went out to play.

“Back in those days, we were very poor. I was lucky to have shoes,” Beltran said. “I put them close by and kept an eye on them.”

When the first bell rang, he said kids would have time to put their shoes on and go to the bathroom.

“When the second bell rang, you had better be in class,” he said.

School days lasted from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. The building was a two-story brick structure shaped like an “L.”

“It was not too far from the railroad tracks. The playground was between the school and the road.”

The school had three rooms for the classes, a kitchen upstairs, a principle’s office and teachers’ office.

He said after the third grade, many of the students found it tough to go to the public school.

Despite the segregated situation, Beltran said he always thought he was one of the guys.

He said one of those guys was James Henry, who was in Boy Scout Troop 72. He noted Henry made the rank of Eagle Scout.

“I was a Life Scout, working on Eagle, but I went into the Army,” he said.

Beltran also signed up for high school football in 1945.

“We practiced and everything, but this guy came up to me and said, ‘You take my shoes. Go clean them and bring them back to me,’” he said. “I turned my suit in. It hurt me a little. Everybody else treated me all right.”

But the following year, Beltran signed up again because the bully was gone.

Beltran entered the military in 1948 at Fort Lewis, Wash., and was transferred to Fort Sam Houston medical school in San Antonio.

From Fort Sam Houston, Beltran went to Camp Kilmer, N.J. and shipped out to Germany, where he participated in the Berlin airlift from January to July 1949.

He then went to Patrick Air Force Base (now Cape Kennedy Space Center) and saw the first German V2 rocket launched.

“To me, that was some excitement. It was beautiful.”

Then he was assigned to Fort Sill, Okla.

“I was supposed to go to Korea, but I didn’t have much time left, so they pulled me back. I got out in 1952,” he said.

Beltran had served from 1948 to 1952 and exited military service as a lance corporal (E-4).

While Beltran experience a lot in his youth, he vividly recalls that early part of his life in Spanish School.

The school finally was destroyed by a hurricane in 1942.

“I’m very proud to see that things have changed a lot, but there’s still some discrimination,” he said.

“I always look at everything positive. I can’t blame it all on one people. We have to keep working at it.”
Comments-icon Post a Comment
April 15, 2013
How did the following sentence get through the editing process?

"The school had three rooms for the classes, a kitchen upstairs, a principle’s office and teachers’ office."

An easy way to remember the correct spelling is that your principal is your "pal".
Kami King
April 15, 2013
My grandmother, Ruby Espinosa, is on the middle row second from the left :) I would like to thank Mr. Beltran for stoping by after her funeral to show her family the picture it ment a lot to us all but me especially because I had the oppritunity to her my momos stories of the old spanish school and see her copy of that picture. So thank you mr.beltran once again. :)
March 29, 2013
I am proud to call Ismael Beltran my uncle. What an amazing article! My Uncle Mike was my inspiration for wanting to pursue my education. He always managed to stay in tuned with my life no matter the miles that separate us. Hearing the story of his early childhood allows me to better understand the great man that he's become. Thanks for sharing his memories! Teresa Beltran-McFetridge, RHS 1987
March 17, 2013
I remember Ismael quite well, never knew him as Mike. I didn't get to Refugio until 1944, so the Old Spanish School was already closed (1942). I did hear about it, from classmate Marcello Ramirez, who to this day, I think, recalls quite vividly his first day in the "Anglo" school.

Mrs Coward, she also taught in the Refugio elementary school. She was one imposing figure. I never had her as my teacher, yet I trembled when I passed her in the hall ways. Miss Alice Copeland, 6th grade teacher, was notorious for her usage of the ruler - usually with a snap that smarted badly across your wrist, sometimes delivered without warning.

Nice column, Tim and Mike.

Andy Pate, RHS 1952