Big changes have come to the local Clara Barton community building in the past few months. Paula Curran, a long-time Cabin John resident, became the new director of the Clara Barton Center for Children, and Barry Jones joined the Clara Barton Neighborhood Recreation Center as its new director.
Located at the corner of MacArthur Boulevard and 75th Street, the 89-year-old building is a local gem housing both a preschool and a Montgomery County recreation facility. The Clara Barton Center for Children (CBCC), which occupies the north end of the building, is a
renowned, play-based preschool. It was founded in 1975 after the school board decided to close the Clara Barton Elementary School which had occupied the site since 1928. The community center, located in the south end of the building, is operated by the Montgomery County Department of Recreation and offers fitness and activity programs for seniors, children, and other residents. A recreation center first
operated at the site in 1957, although in a different building, according to local historian Judith Welles. In 1990, the center moved into its present location.
The CBCC preschool has been a pillar of the Cabin John community for decades, providing a warm, loving, and happy start for many of Cabin John’s youngest citizens. Paula Curran became the center’s new director in October, after serving as the school’s administrator for
12 years. A resident of Carver Road since 1999 with her husband Matt, Curran first came to know CBCC when their oldest daughter started at Clara Barton in 2004. Two other children are also alumni.
The school has 75 children in five classrooms (all named after birds!), 15 staff members, and two outdoor playgrounds.“Part of what makes this school so special is that it is tucked away in this little community and many of the children go on to elementary school with their friends,” said Curran. “The children’s days are filled with joyful learning, exploring, creating, making choices, and experimenting. That is the basis of what we do.”
Curran says she is committed to the positive, play-based program. While she anticipates there will be “a few tweaks here and there,” she says that “one of my favorite things is seeing families come back who were at the school years ago, and I can tell them that the school is pretty much like it was when they were here. It’s just a wonderful community.”
Although Cabin John residents are given a priority for admission, the school’s small size and sibling preference means there is usually a waitlist for new students. Curran admits that this is a challenging part of her job. She also wants local families to know that the school provides financial aid and encourages all families to apply for admission, regardless of ability to pay.
The school is known for the remarkable longevity of its staff, many of whom have been at the school a decade or longer. Cabin Johners Maris Miles and Deborah Duffy have worked at the school for 13 and 12 years respectively. In January, Duffy took on the role of assistant director at the preschool. Cabin Johner Liz Clark, a 21-year veteran teacher at CBCC, attended Clara Barton Elementary in the 1960s.
Barry Jones has been on the job as director of the recreation center since December. While this position is his first for Montgomery County, Jones, an Arlington native, worked in recreation and community programming for Fairfax County for five years. He is eager to connect with Cabin Johners about their interests to expand offerings that best meet community’s needs. “This center has a lot of potential and I want people to use the resources we have here. It all starts with programming,” said Jones.
He says the center has several well-utilized programs for seniors that he hopes to expand to more days, including a drop-in morning program with social activities, breakfast, games, crafts, and recreation. Jones would like to add adult evening classes, perhaps Zumba, interval training, or dance classes. He plans to hold demonstration classes to see what residents are interested in.
He also wants to get young people engaged at the center. He is considering a drop-in after school program for young people with homework space, an open gym, and pool and ping-pong tables. Jones says the monthly Mac Friday program, open to kids in 3rd to 6th grade, draws between 70 and 90 kids once a month for pizza, basketball, crafts, dancing, and video games.
Jones wants the community to know that he is, “someone who is available and open…if there are things that people need or want, don’t be afraid to ask. The community center belongs to the people and is here to serve their interests. We work for them and we want to make the center the best that it can be.” Finally, he notes that citizens can rent the social hall, community room, and the smaller
meeting room for meetings and activities. Just call to make a reservation. The center’s number is 240-777-4910.
By Vashti Van Wyke