Less than one month before the start of the school year, working families in Berkeley who need after-school care have no idea whether they will have a spot or have to make last-minute alternative arrangements for their children. 

Aside from the everyday stresses of being a parent/caregiver, imagine the stress of not knowing whether your child will have somewhere to go at 2 p.m. or 3 p.m. (or 1 p.m. for many of our youngest ones!). Or whether you must plead to make last-minute changes to your work schedule or cobble together care with limited options available. 

The lack of universally accessible, quality after-school care is a huge gap in the Berkeley Unified School District and speaks to a lack of ingenuity, administration, and commitment to equity. It is dismissive of working families who rely on after-school care to otherwise support themselves and, I would imagine, would turn families away from BUSD.

The benefits of enriching after-school care are well documented and studied. After-school care can close achievement gaps. Access to aftercare can also help address students’ emotional needs, something desperately needed during this post-pandemic school closure period. 

After-school care is an opportunity for innovation. This is when the district could offer more support services, where children could be building social and other academic skills, and when caregivers could be focused on the work they need to do to sustain themselves in the Bay Area. If we know that mothers primarily take on the burden when there are gaps in care during the day, would universally accessible aftercare improve upward mobility for all women in Berkeley? 

I am so proud to be a parent at BUSD – for our amazing teachers, the rich social and emotional curriculum, and the deeply rooted commitment to equity – but this is an inexplicable gap. How can we lead when caregivers are scrambling to ensure their children are taken care of during working hours? How can we lead when children don’t have support throughout their day?

Our city provides a robust after-school program. Why has BUSD not partnered with the city to run the program at schools? Our neighbor, El Cerrito, already does this. Some BUSD elementary schools partner with private organizations to provide school site aftercare. Why have those programs not been expanded throughout the district to address gaps at other school sites? The cost of bussing is a consistent thorn in the BUSD budget. If more children didn’t have to be bussed to private programs or home after school because there was a stable onsite program, would we be able to re-direct some funds used for bussing to other programs the district so sorely needs? If caregivers didn’t have to interrupt their workdays to deal with childcare, would they be more fully able to participate in our community? 

We have a documented budget surplus this year and community leaders willing to do the work. We should prioritize safe, enriching, and universally accessible after-school care for all children in Berkeley.

Emily Haan lives in Berkeley and is a parent to two children in BUSD and an administrator at UC Hastings School of Law in San Francisco.

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