On Jan. 13, a warm winter afternoon in Georgetown, a lively, laughing masked woman — wearing a black robe covered with numbers and a bright red cap — cajoles a number of under-seven-year-olds sitting in colorfully chalked circles six feet apart around her in Rose Park. She playfully urges them to say their numbers, then they learn them in sign language with the help of large sets of cards spread out in front of each child.
Earlier, another equally enthusiastic and learned masked lady sat in her own chalked circle in front of a similar group of children, reading from a large book, “The Red Hat.” She engages the youngsters with questions and comments about the book, then passes out materials and demonstrates how they can create their own books at home.
The self-described “Numbers Lady” is Rebecca Klemm, a retired government statistical litigator who lives adjacent to Rose Park. The founder of numbersalive.com, she is passionate about making numbers (that is, math) come alive for children — and adult hangers-on — of all ages. Klemm offers tutoring, but what she loves best, she says, is interacting with children in person. Karin Harrison is the reading expert, a retired School Without Walls at Francis Stevens teacher who lives in Potomac, Maryland. The two are participants in Rose Park’s Outdoor Storytime! program, coordinated by Allister Chang, recently elected Ward 2 representative on the DC State Board of Education.
But those aren’t the only activities enlivening the park. While D.C. residents are supposedly huddling at home in fear, facing lockdowns and hundreds of armed National Guard troops in wake of the assault on the Capitol last week and yesterday’s historic second impeachment of President Donald Trump — and an almost complete shutdown of the downtown area for the week of inauguration — Rose Park is abuzz with healthy activity.
To your right, ladies and gentleman, the three tennis courts are full of vigorous don’t-get-near-me tennis players, while others with masks await their turn standing against the fencing or sitting one on a bench. The tennis wall is in constant use. Four young men shoot basketball hoops on the south side of the basketball court, while on the north end a fitness coach surrounded by weights, balls and other exercise equipment leads his earnest followers. The children’s playground nearby seems to have been freshly painted and repaired; a few children with their guardians play there masked and at safe distances from one another.
And the big news is: after three months of excavation, construction and reconstruction, thousands of pallets of sod are being laid on the north park acreage. A beautiful green softball field and park will soon be a fact along P Street.
The stories-and-numbers sessions in the park are scheduled to take place most Wednesdays and are free. “The DCPS schedule includes several independent learning blocks throughout the week. These are times that students do not have synchronous learning opportunities,” writes Thomas Elbert, a recent Georgetown University graduate who has been volunteering to help organize the outdoor story times in Rose Park. “Ten months since DC Public Schools closed, many students continue to struggle with virtual learning.”
“Virtual learning does not engage students in the way that in-person experiences do,” says Chloe Kaplan, a Georgetown parent who teaches creative writing to young people. “Outdoor learning programs are essential as we seek to keep the love of learning alive for our children.”
“There is no evidence that small children can learn to read from screens and online teachers,” said Laura Derrendinger, a mother who volunteers for the outdoor reading time programs and with the Children’s Screen Time Action Network. The program also addresses the inherent need of children to see and be around other children and strangers.