Berkeley Unified should have universal after-school care

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Less than a month before the start of the school year, working families in Berkeley who need after-school care don’t know if they’ll get a spot or if they’ll have to make alternate last-minute arrangements for their children.

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

The lack of quality, universally accessible 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’s dismissive of working families who rely on after-school care to support themselves and, I imagine, would turn families away from BUSD.

The benefits of nurturing after-school care are well documented and researched. After-school care can close achievement gaps. Access to tracking can also help meet the emotional needs of students, which they desperately need during this time of post-pandemic school closures.

Extracurricular care is an opportunity for innovation. This is when the district could offer more support services, where children could learn social and academic skills, and caregivers could focus on the work they need to do to support themselves. in the Bay Area. If we know that mothers primarily bear the burden when there are gaps in care during the day, would universally accessible follow-up care improve upward mobility for all women in Berkeley?

I’m so proud to be a parent at BUSD – for our amazing teachers, rich social and emotional curriculum, and deep-rooted commitment to equity – but it’s an inexplicable shortcoming. How can we lead when caregivers struggle to ensure their children are cared for during working hours? How can we lead when children don’t have support throughout their day?

Our city offers a strong after-school program. Why didn’t BUSD partner with the city to run the program in schools? Our neighbor, El Cerrito, already does this. Some BUSD elementary schools partner with private organizations to track school sites. Why weren’t these programs expanded across the district to fill the gaps in other school sites? The cost of buses is a constant thorn in the BUSD budget. If more children did not have to be bused to private programs or home after school because there was a stable program in place, would we be able to redirect some of the funds used for bus to other much-needed programs in the district? If caregivers didn’t have to interrupt their working days to attend to childcare, would they be better able to fully participate in our community?

We have a documented budget surplus this year and community leaders are ready to get the job done. We should prioritize safe, nurturing, and universally accessible after-school care for all Berkeley children.

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

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