If you’ve never noticed Stonewall Jackson Elementary School, which stands out so prominently at the corner of Mockingbird and Matilda, you have probably noticed the traffic signs that surround the school.“Deaf Children at Play,” the signs read, cautioning drivers to slow down and take notice of some very special children learning nearby.

Indeed, there are some very special children inside Stonewall Jackson, as well as some very special adults, who have worked together to create an exemplary educational environment that was recently awarded the honor of being selected as a Blue Ribbon Elementary School.

Built in 1939, Stonewall Jackson Elementary is part of the Dallas Independent School District.The vibrant “M” street neighborhood has literally grown up around the school.Since 1968 it has been one of three elementary campuses for the Dallas Regional School for the Deaf, and houses the majority of the district’s hearing impaired students.

But what makes this school special is its focus on inclusion — every student, hearing impaired or not, learns sign language and experiences deaf culture.The roughly 17% of students classified as Special Needs at Stonewall are mainstreamed into all classrooms.The school’s commitment to teaching sensitivity is evidenced further by the Friendship Choir, a group of hearing and deaf children who combine music and sign language into a new art form. Stonewall Jackson has proven successful academically as well — it is classified as an “Exemplary” school, a Texas Education Agency award based on test scores, drop-out-rate, and attendance.

According to Stonewall Principal Olivia Henderson, these attributes are some of the main reasons she decided to “go for it” when the Blue Ribbon School application process began.“The application process is overwhelming,” she explains, “but I saw this as an opportunity to highlight the wonderful things that are happening at Dallas Public Schools.”

The Blue Ribbon award is given to elementary schools who meet the U.S. Department of Education’s criteria for excellence in the areas of academic leadership, teaching and teacher development, school curriculum, community and parental involvement. The application is comprised of seven sections containing 40 or more questions.

“The application asks for at least five years worth of data on a variety of subjects,” says Henderson, noting that it would be almost impossible for a new principal to even apply for the Blue Ribbon award.“I’ve been the Principal at Stonewall Jackson for nine years, and it was such a difficult task to pull together all this information that we almost backed out of the application process last October.”

Fortunately, Henderson found enthusiastic support from the Parent Teacher Association and other interested parents.She was particularly fortunate to have the help of parent Lori Burrous, a professional grant writer.Burrous is the mother of a second grader at Stonewall, and one of the primary authors of the Blue Ribbon application.“It was a huge project to undertake,” says Burrous of the application, “but we felt that Stonewall had a good chance at being selected.”After three months of intense preparation which often included Saturdays, Sundays, and holidays, the application was submitted.

On May 20, U.S. Secretary of Education Richard Riley announced the selection of the 1998-99 Blue Ribbon Elementary Schools.Stonewall Jackson was one of 41 schools in Texas to be honored with this designation.Burrous feels that in addition to confirming what Stonewall parents already know about their wonderful and unique school, this award brings with it some very concrete benefits to the entire Stonewall community.

“Living near a Blue Ribbon school increases property values,” she explains.“and both the teachers and students are benefiting from the recognition this award has brought to the school.”

To celebrate the honor of being selected as a Blue Ribbon School, and to commemorate its 60th Birthday, Stonewall Jackson Elementary is hosting a Community Picnic on Saturday Nov. 20 from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m.Invited guests include Mayor Ron Kirk, DISD Board Member Roxanne Staff, and Congressman Pete Sessions.For more information about the picnic, contact the school at 214-841-5155.