D.C. Rec Centers To Host Play Days

By Nikita Stewart
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, September 17, 2009

More than two dozen District recreation centers will open their doors Friday to D.C. public school students when school is out for a teacher training day, to provide relief for parents faced with the mad scramble for child care.

Consider the officially dubbed "play day" to be the ultimate citywide drop-in service.

And it's free.

Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee, who has pushed for more teacher training in her quest to improve the troubled school district, put five professional development days on this year's school calendar. Parents will have to find care for their children on those five days, in addition to those not-so-holiday holidays such as Veterans and Presidents' days.

"For some families, that's a hardship," said Jacquie Jones, co-president of the Home and School Association at Eaton Elementary School in Northwest Washington.

Like many parents, Jones had no idea play day was available.

Although play day was advertised on e-mail lists and through a news release, Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) did not hold his usual news conference to unveil it. Friday is being treated as a soft opening for the program.

Mafara Hobson, a Fenty spokeswoman, said play day is open to everyone at 27 recreation centers in every ward. Enrollment forms are available at recreation centers and at the Department of Parks and Recreation Web site. Students can be signed up on the spot if space is available.

From 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., students in pre-kindergarten through eighth-grade will be entertained with Wii, tennis and even fishing, depending on the recreation center.

The program will also be held on the subsequent four professional development days; the next is Oct. 30. About 3,000 children from the 45,000-student school system are expected to participate, Hobson said. She said the city will not incur additional costs because workers at the centers will already be on duty and they will be joined by employees who staff after-school programs at some schools.

Rhee was inundated with complaints this year when she initially proposed six professional development days on Wednesdays. Parents pooh-poohed the idea, worried about finding child care midweek.

Around the country, education budgets are being cut, affecting school bus routes and the length of the school day, said James Martinez, a spokesman for the National PTA.

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