Expanding Out-of-School Time Options

I recently led on passing two policy orders related to out-of-school (OST) time options in Cambridge, both of which are now sitting on the City Manager’s desk and awaiting implementation. One order asks the City Manager to present a plan (including funding) for expanding OST options, and the other asks him to establish a Caregiver Advisory Council for engaging key stakeholders around the issue.

I’ve long called for expanded OST options, but things really came to a head last month when many Cambridge families were suddenly at the last minute denied slots that they had been counting on for the upcoming school year. The insufficient notice inevitably caused lots of confusion in the community, and in some cases, parents and caregivers faced jeopardized employment or were left without childcare options.

There are three big things I’m looking for in the City Manager’s plan for expanding OST options. They are:

  1. Immediate expansion of Community Schools programs by hiring additional staff. These programs offer flexibility for our families and important enrichment opportunities for our scholars which might not be available anywhere else. The major constraint here is staffing, not space, and that is resolved with a deeper investment. This is the most immediate way we can expand OST options, and I am frustrated that we have not already made more of an effort to do so.

  2. Implementing the highly successful King Open Extended Day program at other schools in the city. This program functions as a more natural extension of the school day, offering social and academic enrichment in a classroom setting. It works in synergy with the Community Schools program, and both of my kids benefited greatly from having both options available to them at King Open. The Extended Day program also has a more diverse staff, which both of my kids really appreciated as they were growing up. We are told that one of the main obstacles to implementing this program at other schools around the city is that the day school teachers do not want to share their classroom space with after school programs. While I can appreciate the ways in which sharing space might be inconvenient and challenging, we must get serious about resolving this so that all of our children can benefit from a more traditional extended day option in addition to the more a la carte options offered by the Community School programs. We are about to spend $250 million on rebuilding the Tobin School, and it is incumbent on us to find a way to maximize the utilization of that space, as opposed to having it sit empty and underutilized more than half of the time!

  3. Expanding Youth Center hours and programming, including on Saturdays. There is an urgent need to expand our youth centers to create options for our young people, including on Saturdays. Once again, all we need to do is make a deeper investment. And in addition to expanding hours and capacity, we need to make a direct investment into the facilities. Back in 2019, the Moses Youth Center was a finalist in the participatory budgeting process. They asked for $95,000 to improve the quality and equipment of the Moses Youth Center by adding new furniture, upgrading technology, and modernizing sports equipment & supplies. It wasn’t chosen as a winner of participatory budgeting that year, and as far as I can tell the upgrades have yet to be made. Why not? It is unacceptable, and that’s just one example.

The final piece is establishing the Caregiver Advisory Council for engaging key stakeholders around the issue. High-priority families are most detrimentally impacted and must lead and be partnered with to address their needs in out-of-school time programming, especially considering the rippling effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. For this reason, the Caregiver Advisory Council should be overly represented by high-priority families. This body would focus on key issues like enrollment, capacity, staffing, and outreach efforts.

Providing more equitable access to expansive OST programming is essential to support and uplift the city’s low-income and Black and Brown families, as well as families with disabled children. Of course, these proposals are only a small piece of the work that needs to be done. My recent op-ed covers many more topics including the need for universal pre-K, expanding the RSTA program and vocational options, and creating more economic opportunity in our community. Special thanks to Councillor McGovern, Mayor Siddiqui, and Councillor Carlone for cosponsoring these proposals- read them in full here and here!

Thank you as well to all the parents and caregivers who reached out to share their perspectives. I’ve heard you and I will keep on pushing the city to do better!