DC does away with ‘Hunger Games’ style summer camp sign-up, moves to lottery system

On top of taxes and preparing spring break plans, parents know it’s also the time of year to start signing their kids up for summer camp. And in D.C., high demand is prompting the city to change to a lottery system.

Mayor Muriel Bowser made the announcement Thursday that the District would shift to a lottery system, saying it was more equitable and will ease the stress on parents who have shared their frustrations with the city.

“We are really hearing families in terms of wanting more access, wanting more programs wanting more slots,” said at-large councilmember Christina Henderson, who compared signing up for D.C. summer camps to the 2008 dystopian book “The Hunger Games.”

Henderson wasn’t alone in that feeling. The department got loads of emails and calls from parents citing impossible odds like finding 1,400 people ahead of them in a virtual line to grab their child a spot.

“At a site like Turkey Thicket, (for) 40 slots you routinely have 600 people competing for those slots at the same time,” said Department of Parks and Recreation director Delano Hunter.

After saying that high-demand recreation centers will increase their hours from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. weekly and stay open longer on Saturdays, Bowser also announced the change to the summer camp sign-up process.

“In addition to expanding hours, I also charged DPR with creating a better system, one that is more equitable and gives more families a fair shot of getting their kids into summer camp. So I’m excited to announce that DPR is moving to a lottery-based system,” she said.

Parents will have four weeks to register their child beginning on Monday, March 13 at 12 p.m.

“And it won’t be a frantic scramble to sign up,” said Bowser.

Parents will get to select three camp preferences and locations per child, per session. After the lottery registration window closes on April 5, the system will randomly select participants from those who have registered. Residents will be notified by email regarding summer camp placement on April 18, and if selected, payment will be due at that time.

The department is rolling out new programming for the summer for kids including camps focusing on e-sports, golf, journalism, robotics, lacrosse, gymnastics and kayaking, to name a few.

The 2023 DPR summer camps available for sign-up include:

  • Little Explorers Camp (Ages 3 – 5)
  • Discovery Camp (Ages 6 – 10)
  • Boost Camp (Ages 11 – 13): Boost camps offer specialty enrichment camps with an academic component. Among the specialty camps offered this year are: Rocket Camp, Robotics Camp, E-sports Camp, Journalism Camp, Improv Camp and CSI.
  • Therapeutic Recreation Camps (Ages 3 – 16): Therapeutic Recreation camps are offered by DPR to children with and without developmental and intellectual disabilities. Therapeutic Recreation camps will open for registration on March 13, but will not use the lottery system, as TR participants must undergo an assessment by TR staff before they can be enrolled.

With all the new programming, Hunter said DPR is seeking additional help.

“During the summer, we ramp up and hire an additional 700 to 800 employees and we want to grow our team this summer,” he said.

He noted the city will prioritize hiring D.C. residents.

Megan Cloherty

WTOP Investigative Reporter Megan Cloherty primarily covers breaking news, crime and courts.

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