ALLSTON (CBS) - For the first time in its 152-year history, the Horace Mann School for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing has a deaf principal and deaf vice principal.
"It's actually the first public day school for deaf children in the U.S., and it was 1869," says Dr. Michelle Eisan-Smith, the new head of school at HMS. Eisan-Smith is deaf, as is her assistant head of school, Jennifer Greenfield. They both spoke with WBZ-TV through an ASL interpreter.
"I am very grateful to Boston Public Schools and the interview committee who has given us these opportunities to really be as inclusive as possible and to prioritize deaf representation, especially for our community," said Eisan-Smith.
And the history at HMS is rich. Alexander Graham Bell was a devoted donor to the school. Helen Keller once took classes there. And it's now home to about 70 students -- from infancy to 22-year-olds -- learning American Sign Language and a full curriculum.
"It's an amazing experience, such an honor" to be the first, Eisan-Smith said. "When I first found out, honestly my jaw hit the floor."
"We really want our deaf students to recognize that they can succeed and thrive," said Greenfield. "We don't often hear that message in the wider hearing community, and so we want our students to know they can succeed, they can lead happy lives."
And when the children here learned their new heads of school are deaf -- like them -- they couldn't believe it.
"There have been some students who have actually been kind of surprised and have come up to us privately and said, 'Are you actually deaf? Is this true?'" Greenfield said.
"I think we are really committed for that purpose that it shouldn't be a question in these kids' minds that they can achieve at every level in whatever their dream may be," said Eisan-Smith.
And they're hoping to build on Horace Mann's legacy with a new, state-of-the-art school building expected to open in the next few years -- another message to the students that the city values them and their futures.
"We're trying to show them with our actions and with our words that they can do things," Greenfield said.
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