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Dupont & Logan Circle Parents Seeking OK for Parks Department Toddler Program at Stead

Accompanying images can be viewed in the February 2014 issue PDF

By Mike Persley*

The Department of Parks and Recreation is considering opening a part-time toddler daycare program at Stead Park, located on the north side of P Street between 16th and 17th Streets, NW.

The park would be the 12th addition to the department’s Cooperative Play Program (Co-op), which provides a structured play setting for children 18 months to five years old at a far cheaper price than most private daycare facilities.

The idea to expand the program came when Kishan Putta, a Dupont Circle ANC commissioner, and Kari Cunningham, approached the department late last year about providing the service to encourage many of the young families in the Dupont and Logan Circle neighborhoods to stay in the area.

“DC has pretty good pre-school but we don’t have much for the younger kids,” Putta told The InTowner. “It’s great that families want to stay here, but we have to do more to keep them.”

Putta says the department initially seemed interested in the idea, but needed proof that the demand was there to justify the expansion. And so he and Cunningham sent out a Google survey through the neighborhood to gauge parent’s interest.

The results were instantly positive.

“We got at least 30 to 40 families almost immediately,” he says. “I was actually surprised by how fast the response was.”

As of early February there were up to 75 families that had shown interest, he says.

But before things can proceed, the department must take a series of steps to test the feasibility of holding the program at the park.

First, an operations team is being sent to inspect the safety of the recreation center where the program will be held. Second, a full-time, qualified instructor must be found to lead the activities.

If both the requirements are met, than there should be no issue with the program opening.

According to the department’s Chief of Staff, John Stokes, “We will absolutely be willing to open it because we know the parents are passionate about it, but all of our ‘T’s have to be crossed and all of our ‘I’s have to be dotted.”

Stokes says that he’s “cautiously optimistic” about the outcome of both requirements.

If approved, the program will provide a low-cost option for parents who want to socialize their child with other children in the neighborhood.

According to the department’s website, the Co-op operates on the normal school schedule of September to May and emphasizes “cognitive growth through music, painting, and cutting; and gross motor development by running and jumping.”

Play days are scheduled Monday through Friday, between 9 a.m. and 12 noon, and cost $216 per month.

Parents are required to volunteer one day a week, and enrollment is limited to between 10-18 children in order to give each child quality attention.

Cunningham, who herself has a two-year-old daughter, says that the low cost, and part-time hours of the program are its biggest benefits.

“Every other program is three to five times more expensive,” she says, “and it’s stressful if you’re a parent on a full-time program’s hours; it’s hard to plan your schedule around.”

She also says the close proximity to home can help bring parents together in the community.

“Trust me, any mother knows that once you have your first child, it can feel isolating,” she says. “This is a way for parents to get to know the children, for children to get to know the parents, and to kind of foster a sense of community.”

*The writer, a resident of the Bloomingdale neighborhood, is a graduate of the University of Illinois at Chicago where he majored in political science, and is now studying for his Masters degree at the University of Maryland’s Phillip Merrill College of Journalism.