Hundreds of D.C. parents braved fierce winds and cool temperatures to secure a prime spot in line outside of Guy Mason Recreation Center Saturday morning. The impetus? It’s summer camp sign-up season in the District.
This year, the annual ritual, in which thousands of parents scramble to secure a spot at a D.C. summer camp, had a new element — the city’s Department of Parks and Recreation offered early, in-person registration for a small number of its most popular camp locations.
Even though registration wasn’t set to begin until 9 a.m., eager — and perhaps slightly desperate — parents began arriving at the Glover Park-area community center as early as 5 a.m.
A D.C. dad, one of the early arrivals, offered photos and a personal account of the action in a series of posts on D.C. Urban Moms.
Finding a spot for children in a summer camp is critical for working parents who must scramble to find care for their children when school is out during the summer. Parents say, D.C.’s camps are particularly appealing because their fees are low — $100 for D.C. residents for a two-week session with before and after-care priced at $20. By contrast, summer camps run by Montgomery County’s parks department can cost as much as $476 for a two-week session depending on the program.
Allison Acosta arrived at Guy Mason at 8:40 a.m. — and discovered there already were close to 100 parents ahead of her. The mother of two, in her rookie year of the summer camp registration dance, secured number 94. At 11:30 a.m. she stood in the hallway of the center carrying her four-month-old baby as her three-year-old daughter played on the floor. Despite her early arrival, she was fretting about whether there would be any room left.
“It’s crazy,” she said, as she and another mom sized up their chances. “I don’t know how many spots are at each camp.”
Gill Houghton came prepared for a wait. He’d snagged a seat and was quietly completing Sudoku puzzles as he waited for his number — 54 — to be called. He’d anticipated a long wait — but at 11:15 a.m., parks and recreation staffers were still only working with parents who held numbers in the 30s.
“My wife called and asked how long I thought it would take,” he said. “I told her it was going to be awhile.”
Houghton, a veteran of the summer camp sign-up dance, was hoping to find spots for his 11-year-old son and 8-year-old daughter.
“It’s a bargain as opposed to the other private camps,” he said. “There’s just no comparison.”
He too, was doing the math. Under rules set by the city, a person could register their children at one of six sites — Friendship, Chevy Chase, Volta Park, Guy Mason and Rose Park recreation centers and Chevy Chase Community Center.
Department officials said the Saturday registration was an attempt to address the needs of parents looking to send their kids to the summer camps sites for which demand is highest. Based on feedback they receive, they may consider expanding the in-person early registration program to other sites. Online registration for summer camps is scheduled to begin on Monday.