WORCESTER—U.S. Sen. John F. Kerry was puzzled why the Jacob Hiatt Magnet School, in the Main South neighborhood, has a waiting list with more than 600 names on it.
Principal Anthony J. Caputo told him the city’s School Department asked 14,000 parents what they wanted in a public school. “The parents wanted high academic standards and a focus on child development,” Caputo said.
The 730 pupils at Hiatt learn in English and Spanish with a goal of making all students proficient in both languages. The students are chosen by lottery, and almost twice as many enter the lottery than the school can accommodate.
“That school is in one of our toughest neighborhoods but we’ve made it so attractive that people want to send their kids there,” said Mayor Raymond V. Mariano.
Kerry, who celebrated Mickey Mouse’s birthday with a cake in the principal’s office, visited several classes. He saw a first-grade class take a lesson in counting that was conducted completely in Spanish. The pupils, some English-speaking and some Spanish-speaking, answered questions in Spanish.
Kerry, a critic of other bilingual programs, praised the idea of mixing the pupils together and teaching in both languages. He suggested that the Hiatt school could be a model for schools nationwide.
Kerry wanted to know how Hiatt, nominated as a National Blue Ribbon School, could be replicated in other places. Mariano, who met with the senator after the tour, said the answer is money.
Mariano said the Worcester schools have been making great progress since the state started contributing large sums to local education under the Education Reform Act of 1993.
Kerry also was interested in a pre-kindergarten class in which several activities were happening at the same time.
“Science shows us that first three years of development can be the most important and that the first six years can determine how well kids will do later on in school,” Kerry said.
Earlier this year, Kerry and Sen. Kit Bond, R-Mo., filed a bill that would increase support for early childhood programs, Head Start and child care programs for infants and toddlers. He said the federal funds spent on such programs will help decrease the $ 35 billion the government spends on teen-age intervention programs.
Kerry also saw several students in the school library using the Internet to get information for school projects.