Note: I've added updates on TIMING throughout.
This is the info I wish was readily available online. It’s not, so I had to do the research myself. It would be a waste to hoard it for myself.
First, thank you, Cambridge for putting together this comprehensive list of after-school options (hereafter, the Overwhelming List, or OL for short).
Small problem — whoever put this together does not actually have kids they’re trying to get coverage for. I know this because so much crucial info is missing (from the list or anywhere on the web).
So here’s what I’ve learned emailing, calling, and visiting various programs so that you can get through it all faster. If I’ve made errors or you have new info, please share — email me email@example.com. [Many edits made 4/1 — thank you!]
BASICS: Cambridge has 3 types of after-school programs. All are 10-month programs (September — June). (All separately offer summer programming.) They are:
This calls for a table, so here’s one with the basics (many of which I only learned via lengthy email correspondence, as it’s not up online). Get your bearings, then meet me below for deeper dives.
Obvious, but worth saying: Your #1 consideration should be how to get the child home
As you know, the CPS busing system will bring your child home OR to an afterschool program if their school is over 1 mile from your home or crosses Mass Ave (link). What I didn’t initially realize is that the government goodies end there. That is, you must pick your child up from after school yourself. (Makes sense.)
Therefore, be sure that you pick an after school that’s convenient to your home or commute from work. Basic, but realizing this radically changed how I approached filtering the otherwise Overwhelming List we referenced up top.
[1/3] DHSP After-Schools
These programs are in 5 CPS schools (FMA, MLK, King Open, Morse, Peabody). Below left is how DHSP presents them. It’s horribly confusing. Thus, I created the hopefully helpful table, below right.
Two big things here:
5-day program: Unlike the Community Schools and many of the private options, you can’t choose certain days for your kid to attend. It’s a 5-day program.
Admissions will be a lottery, prioritizing DHSP Preschool grads. There are 7 DHSP Preschools. It seems unfair that parents lucky enough to get their kids into one of them also get a leg up on the DHSP After Schools, but that’s how it is. (I’m one such parent, but do find it unfair.)
Worse than that: Parents of DHSP Preschool kids don’t have to do anything to get on the list for DHSP After School admission.
Update (4/6/22): Chandra's email to DHSP Preschool parents went out this morning. If you are a DHSP Preschool parent and didn't get this email, email Chandra immediately. Update (5/9/22): At the start of May, DHSP notified families in the program already they could re-apply.
Chandra Green, Head of DHSP enrollment, emailed one parent confirming that DHSP Preschool parents don’t have to submit application paperwork:
“[W]e will be notifying [DHSP] families around mid-April ,” and “[T]ransitioning children from our preschools will be prioritized for space. If we run out of space children remain prioritized until space comes available for the student.”
If you’re not a DHSP Preschool parent, email Chandra and/or apply now to get on the list. (Chandra is very responsive — firstname.lastname@example.org.)
A lottery will probably apply, but it’s best to be safe, as the rules are still obviously in flux. As compared to Community Schools, DHSP After Schools provide more coverage (see hopefully helpful table #1 above) and are of the same quality (I believe). That means, all things being equal, you’ll likely (slightly) prefer a DHSP program to a Community School.
[2/3] Community Schools
Good news: Eleven of the 12 CPS elementary schools have one (the exception is Baldwin). Admission is lottery-based (DHSP Preschool grads don’t have priority).
Cost: More total unfairness — the City’s 2 extended-day schools (FMA and MLK) naturally have shorter after-school programs (since they start later). This is reflected in the price, which is $466/month (top rate) at FMA/MLK and $666/month (top rate) at the other schools.
See this very complicated chart for how much you’ll actually have to pay by income and by number of days you send your child.
Note on admissions timing. Thanks to a parent for sharing this that last year, they only found out whether or not they got their Community School slot “basically after school already started.”
She added, “Before Covid it seemed that if you wanted a Community School slot, you could have one (according to parents), and this year they waitlisted kids until they could hire enough staff.”
The MLK Community School Director wrote to another parent, “Everyone agreed that August was much too late for it to happen but the timing was unavoidable last year.”
[Update 5/9/22] Lottery TIMING: While it's still not up on DHSP's website (why not??), I got wind of an email stating that DHSP will open the lottery mid-May and notify parents in the last week of June. For more details, see post.
DHSP’s Chandra Green wrote to me recently that the Community School lottery will be “late Spring, early Summer” this year [see first table above]. The MLK official implied that parents will hear of the lottery, which DHSP runs, via their school’s email system. It seems from her email that you’ll be able to register your child, say which Community School you’re interested in, and the number of days you like.
Note on program quality (this is from the same parent referenced above):
“The programming is VERY different than before Covid and kind of felt hodgepodge but improved as the year progressed. I am looking forward to seeing if they start to try and get back to pre-Covid programming next year [2022–2023].” (Light edits.)
[2.5/3] Cambridge Youth Programs (for pre-teens/middle schoolers)
For students in grades 4–8, DHSP also runs 4 pre-teen after school.
These run every day from 2–6pm, at:
Admission: not sure as the link in the Overwhelming List is broken, but it lists the individual program directors, so reach out to them.
Program quality: A parent said, “It's a really great option, and is one of the cheapest.” Sounds good!
[3/3] Private After-Schools
There are 10 nonprofit and for-profit after-school programs in the City (see Overwhelming List’s very first page). But really, there are only 8, as I’ll show below.
Nonprofit status: Kiddie Academy is the only program that’s For Profit (not Nonprofit). From personal experience (I sent my kids to daycare there for a short time), I would not recommend Kiddie Academy. It’s badly run. Use as a stop-gap only.
Dragonfly is only for grades 4 - 5 + for Graham & Parks students only. Pretty much says it all. Unless, that’s you, this one’s not an option.
The 8 remaining programs are:
First, map them out. Remember that pick-up is on you. So your first order of business in sorting through these programs is figuring out where they are and if you can make pick-up work for you.
Then, do some quick research: The programs do vary in quality, so asking for a tour (in-person, virtual, or phone call) or to speak to other parents in the program is a great idea. At the very least, take a little stroll on their websites.
Apply now: These programs are generally operating on a first-come, first-served basis. While they mostly aren’t making decisions until the summer, you want to be as high up on the waitlist as you can be.
Updates/corrections/thoughts? Email me at email@example.com
Eugenia Schraa & Amanda Beatty
Cambridge moms of young kids, going slowly nuts trying to wrangle basic info from the City about schools, after schools, preschools, and probably much more.