The Washington Post
Bowser seeks to fix D.C. summer camp scramble
New lottery system aims to offer a more equitable registration process
The District’s Department of Parks and Recreation bills itself as “the agency where the fun happens.” But for parents trying to get their children a slot in one of the department’s summer camps, the experience has often been anything but.
In previous years, registering meant going online at a certain day and time and hoping that your application landed in the queue ahead of everyone else’s. Most of the time it didn’t. Last year, according to the DPR, more than 600 people applied for 40 spots at one of the D.C. camps. That made for a lot of unhappy campers.
A new lottery system introduced this year by Mayor Muriel E. Bowser and DPR Director Delano Hunter aims to take some of the stress out of the registration process and put more fairness into it.
“We know that DPR plays a critical role in our community year round, but especially during the summer,” Bowser said in a statement last week. “This year, we have more summer opportunities, more job opportunities, and a new lottery system to help families avoid the summer camp scramble.”
With the new system, parents and caregivers will have a nearly four-week window starting March 13 to register their camp preferences for their children ages 3 to 13. There are also therapeutic recreation camps for children ages 3 to 16 who have developmental and intellectual disabilities.
The summer camps are broken into four sessions beginning June 28 and ending Aug. 18. Officials say the lottery is a
more equitable way to handle camp assignments, especially for some of the most popular locations.
“It’s not uncommon for demand to exceed available slots by 10 to 1,” Hunter said. “A lottery will ease anxiety and provide a fairer opportunity for families to receive a camp slot.”
Parents enrolling in the camps can choose three camp location preferences per child per session. And for the first time there will be sibling preferences for children from the same family who want to attend the same camp session.
Lottery applications end on April 5, and parents will be notified whether their child was selected for a camp on April 18.
In a news release, DPR said: “All lottery registrations have an equal chance of being selected. Registering early for the lottery will NOT improve your chances.” The summer camp program is open only to D.C. residents.
But registering a child for the lottery does not guarantee them a slot, a DPR spokesperson confirmed. Those not selected for a camp slot will also receive either a cancellation of their lottery enrollment or a waitlist enrollment for their selected camp.
DPR has dramatically increased the number of summer camp opportunities in recent years.
“Previous years we would average around 6,000 camp slots but in 2022 we jumped to 10,000 camp opportunities,” Hunter said in a statement. “This year, DPR has added over 5,000 additional camp slots and are in the process of adding more through utilizing public and public charter school locations and including our residential camp, Camp Riverview in Maryland.”
Hunter said Bowser and the department’s Recreation for All initiative “provides over $5 million in new funding to increase both the number of camps and types of camps that we offer.”
The expansion of the summer camp opportunities coincides with DPR’S announcement that it will extend hours at community recreational centers beginning this month. The new weekday hours will be 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. The new Saturday hours will be 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
“By expanding hours at our recreation centers, we are creating more recreation opportunities for residents of all ages and creating more safe and engaging opportunities for our young people in the evenings and during the weekend,” Bowser said.
The expansion of summer camp opportunities will also create more jobs. Hunter said DPR will hire upward of 700 seasonal employees, including camp counselors, lifeguards and park rangers.