BOSTON (CBS) — The Horace Mann School for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing in Allston was the first public school for the deaf in the country. Now, as one of the jewels of the Boston Public School system, it celebrates 150 years. The real tribute to its history is the work that happens there every day: preparing students for higher education and careers in an environment where the students feel they belong.

When you ask Edward Veras of Dorchester his favorite thing, he’ll tell you it’s sports – the Patriots and Tom Brady. But if you ask him his favorite part of school, he gets right to the point: “Signing,” he smiles, “signing, signing, signing. I just can’t believe signing is the thing!”

Edward is a fifth-grader at Horace Mann who wants to be a scientist. He is hard of hearing, so sign language helps him and his classmates communicate and learn. His Mom Doris Yepes called it his second home.

“This is his place to be. He does not fight me in the morning. He’s not the typical child that doesn’t want to come to school,”  she said smiling, “He drives me nuts every time he wants to wake up at five in the morning ‘is it time yet?’”

How important is that for her to hear that from him? “It’s the sense of security,” she said. She hopes “for him to be happy, to not be judged…to be himself because he’s a unique, unique person. I love the school.”

The Horace Mann School for the Dear opened on Newbury Street in 1869. It was the first public day school for the deaf in the country and is still the only one in Massachusetts – so about one-third of the students come from outside the City of Boston. Alexander Graham Bell was one of the original teachers, but it’s come a long way from its sepia-toned past.

Principal Maritza Ciliberto said, “We’re very proud and our community here in our school and also the deaf and hard of hearing community at large, they’re very proud of that history.”

She added the style of education has changed: “Our school started as an oral school, that was at the time and there are still some programs and schools that that’s their methodology, and what’s different about our school is that we use both languages: English and American Sign Language. We recognize that American Sign Language is a full language, and we use both.”

Some students – who are “deaf multilingual” use a third language at home.

This year, there are 78 students in all, from ages three to 22.

Chamely Flores is a senior who has been a student at Horace Mann since she was four, and now she’s headed to Roxbury Community College.

“We have communication here,” Chamely said. “We are deaf and hard of hearing people who can communicate. We have opportunities for people to be mainstreamed with hearing students and teachers work with us so that we learn sign language, and other people might not know how unique Horace Mann is. When I think about this school being 150 years old, I feel really proud about that. I feel proud about all of the students that graduated before me and I feel like I can’t believe it’s my turn. Here I am, I am a member of the Class of 2020. I’ve been here and I’m part of that legacy of 150 years.”

Boston Schools Superintendent Brenda Cassellius recognized the anniversary by giving Horace Mann the official designation as a “dual-language school,” writing in a November 6, 2019 letter to the school community:

“Dear Horace Mann School Community,

I am thrilled to announce the designation of the Horace Mann School for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing as a Dual Language School for American Sign Language and English. This prestigious recognition is the result of years of advocacy, diligence, and partnership between the deaf community, school community, staff and leadership of the Horace Mann School, and Central Office staff, including the Office of English Learners and the Office of Special Education. We celebrate today what was truly an allied victory, achievable only through the collaboration of both internal and external stakeholders, towards progress and best instructional practices for our students. 

Not only does the Horace Mann hold a tradition of excellence, but it also stands as a premier school for deaf education, actively incorporating the latest instructional strategies and providing opportunities during the school day for professional learning communities for all faculty. The official designation as a Dual Language School is only the latest in the Horace Mann School’s demonstrated pattern of educational innovation. The transition to a Dual Language School is aligned with research in the field of Deaf Education, which has grown significantly. There is a nationwide trend to move to Bilingual, Dual Language education in deaf schools across the nation in the past 15 years. Dual Language recognition will allow for the Horace Mann to realize its vision: for students to graduate on grade level for reading and writing in English and academic American Sign Language (ASL) through providing ASL as a common and shared language that all children in the school can access at all times.”

What the school community hopes for next is a new school building which is in the planning stages to hopefully open in the next two years.

Paula Ebben

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