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.”