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In Much of Upper NW, It's Highchair Seating Only

The rest of the city showed a drop of 30 percent, from 9,000 to fewer than 6,300.

The mostly white, mostly affluent new parents in Upper Northwest and on Capitol Hill said they chose the District for the ease of commuting, cultural amenities, tax credit for first-time home buyers, decrease in crime and change in city leadership. These residents in interviews were quite supportive of Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D).

Janine Kraft, holding the hand of Helen, 3, and pushing Smith, 18 months, walks to a farmers market at the Sheridan School. Behind them, Kraft's husband, Brian, walks with her mother, Lynne Smith. (Bill O'leary -- The Washington Post)

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"It's better run than it used to be, and you don't feel as ripped off as I think people used to," said Amy Vincent, a mother of two young children who lives in north Cleveland Park.

Six years ago, when Vincent and her soon-to-be husband went shopping for a home in which to raise a family, they looked only on Capitol Hill and in Upper Northwest. Both lived and worked in the District, she as a communications director for the Environmental Protection Agency and he as an aerospace engineer for the Naval Research Laboratory.

"I knew I was going to be a stay-at-home mom, and I didn't want to feel isolated," said Vincent, who refers to places as close in as Arlington and Bethesda as "the 'burbs."

"It's just so improbable," said Jewell Stoddard, head of the children's department at Politics & Prose. "When people think of this store, they think of the grown-ups and the political atmosphere and the public policy wonks who hang out here."

But the children's business in the store has been expanding rapidly, and the weekly story hour is so overrun that store representatives asked that the date and time not be published. "We don't even advertise it in our newsletter," Stoddard said. "Five years ago, we would do a program and it would just be a few kids. But it grew and grew and grew. Now it's up to 50 or 75 people."

Hundreds of people have joined Moms on the Hill, a support group that organizes children's activities and runs an online discussion. Tot lots are jammed. The ripple effects have spread to day-care centers, toy stores and schools.

Several schools reported growing demand for pre-kindergarten classes, and even those that have added slots cannot accommodate all the requests.

"We have two classrooms for pre-K, and we easily could have filled more than three," said Marjorie Cuthbert, principal of Murch Elementary School in Northwest.

As the burgeoning population of youngsters enters the school from the neighborhood, it reduces the number of slots open to outsiders. At Janney Elementary School in Northwest, for example, Principal Scott Cartland estimated that in the sixth grade, roughly a quarter of the students are "out of boundary" kids. But in kindergarten, there are only a few.

"If the population within the boundary continues to expand, it will prevent us from accepting as many out-of-boundary students, and the school will not be diverse," he said.

Renee Blankenau, PTA co-president at Key Elementary School in Northwest, said: "There was a time when not so many neighborhood kids went to Key. But there seems to have been an explosion of young families."

To the academics and others who study cities, it is a good sign when families with choices choose to live in an urban area.

Alice M. Rivlin, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution who has studied the city, said, "Until recently, the pattern has been young singles moving in and then moving out at the point they have children of school age," she said. "If that pattern is changing, that is very encouraging."

The arrival of families, she said, can bring pressure for improvement.

"Families form a loyalty to the city," she said. "It is primarily a school phenomenon. What Washington needs is more parents -- including more affluent and middle-income parents -- supporting the school system and trying to make it better."

For many parents, the condition of the D.C. schools is a primary worry. Through PTAs, they make significant contributions so the schools can afford extras. Some Janney parents give as much as $500 annually to the school's PTA -- money that helps pay for a nurse and supplies.

What's less certain is how many of the families will stay -- or stay in public schools. Like many in the neighborhood, they are skeptical about sending their children to the District's middle schools and are equally skeptical of paying for private school.

"The big question is how many of these families will be sending their kids to Deal and Wilson," said Brian Kraft, referring to the middle and high schools that serve the area. He and his wife, Janine, moved to the neighborhood in 1998 and now have two preschool children. "That's the big question mark."

Staff researcher Bobbye Pratt contributed to this report.

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