Parks Department a childcare savior during teacher’s strike

Maya Williams supervises children in a drop-in program at the Rainier Beach Community Center during the teacher's strike. (Photo by Goorish Wibneh)
Maya Williams supervises children in a drop-in program at the Rainier Beach Community Center during the teacher’s strike. (Photo by Goorish Wibneh)

Teachers might resent the idea that babysitting is a part of their job description. But the weeklong teacher’s strike that’s set to end Thursday definitely caused big childcare problems for working families in Seattle.

Fortunately the Department of Parks and Recreation stepped up to rescue desperate parents by extending existing before and after-school programs to last all day.

The free drop-in camps for kids ages five to twelve were held at 21 community centers around the city, from South Park to Northgate.

“We would have just had to take time off work, which, you know, is possible. But it’s nice when you don’t have to,” explained parent Derek Klein as he dropped his kids off at the Rainier Beach Community Center on Tuesday morning.

According to David Takami of Seattle Parks and Recreation, between 2,000 and 2,500 children participated in the camps each day this week, after a limited version of the program at 16 community centers last week was expanded to meet demand.

Takami said overall turnout was about 80% of the full capacity of 3,000 kids, but that participation was lower at community centers in the South End neighborhoods, where the largest population of immigrant families live.

Outreach for the program was done through a press release sent out by the Mayor’s Office, including to ethnic media.

Ashley McCarver, a school-age care director at the Van Asselt Community Center estimated that about 35 to 45 percent of participating children in her center were of from immigrant families.

“The parents were happy that they had somewhere for the children to go.” McCarver said. “They didn’t have to pay anything, so that was good… the city paid for the lunches, the snacks and the breakfasts, so it also made it easier for the parents as well.”

Now that the teacher’s union and the school board have negotiated a tentative agreement, classes are set to begin on Thursday morning.

“They were just frustrated because their children weren’t in school learning,” McCarver said of the parents she met as they dropped off their kids at Van Asselt. “Honestly, it was more challenging for the staff….It was very hard having kids all day long with no break in between. Having the energy and time to be alert and active all day long was difficult.”