Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations
Watch Live


San Diego’s after-school programs are expanding. What do families need to know?

Kids work with a teacher at a SAY San Diego, a licensed afterschool program, in this 2021 photo.
Courtesy of SAY San Diego
Kids work with a teacher at a SAY San Diego after-school program in this undated photo.

The school year is right around the corner, bringing fresh excitement and worries for children and parents. But, this year, there’s one less thing for many parents to worry about: San Diego Unified has vastly expanded its free after-school program, PrimeTime, for the 2023 school year.

San Diego Unified is using a new state grant to broaden its free after-school programs for elementary and middle schools.

“With the additional Extended Learning Opportunities Program grant, it gives us the opportunity to expand the program and serve as many students as we can possibly serve,” said Christiane Trout-McPhee, manager of PrimeTime and licensed child care programs for San Diego Unified.


The district has expanded the number of schools offering PrimeTime, from 117 last year to 125 this year, and also is increasing the number of students at its PrimeTime sites. That means more kids are able to get free after-school care.

But many San Diego Unified schools also have licensed care on site, which families pay for, and which are run by outside organizations. For some, this means having multiple after-school options at the same school.

This expansion will mean more free programs, different options for parents and more spaces in the programs.

To help families navigate this change, KPBS has created a searchable map and table to allow caregivers to search by school or address to see which programs are available. Each map point includes information on care providers at each school, as well as the number of students on the waiting list. If you prefer searching for the school directly, check out the table below to see what after-school programs are available and the links to apply.


What programs are available? And what’s the difference?

The main types of programs available are licensed programs, such as the YMCA’s Character Builders, and license-exempt care, such as PrimeTime. Licensed programs are run by outside businesses on a school site, whereas license-exempt care is run by the school district. However, San Diego Unified also contracts with outside providers to run PrimeTime sites, but the program is overseen by the school district.

PrimeTime is free — but space is limited. There is a priority for certain students, for example, students who were in PrimeTime the previous year, students from military or single-parent households, or students in need of academic assistance.

With the added state funds this year, Trout-McPhee said the district had enough money to offer PrimeTime to the vast majority of kids who want it, but is limited by a lack of staff.

“We are working with our PrimeTime partner organizations to help increase the staff, to provide the support to our students and absorb the students from the waitlist,” Trout-McPhee said. “So it is a gradual increase because there's a lot of training that happens and we want to be sure that the staff that are working with our students are very interested in wanting to work with students.”

Licensed care programs that parents pay for and that are run on school sites can also have waitlists. And, even if a school has both PrimeTime and licensed care, the two programs can’t be in the same space and the students have to be kept separate.

That may seem strange, but it’s because the programs have different sets of requirements, said Kim McDougal, vice president of social services for the YMCA of San Diego County.

“If you blend everything together, it would all have to meet two different types of standards, which would be very difficult, close to impossible,” she said.

Beyond San Diego Unified, there are 41 other school districts in the county, many with their own after-school programs and outside providers. The map and table include information for those districts and their after-school programs, as well.

Back-to-school season will always come with its own set of worries, but, with the growth of programs for San Diego’s busy families, after-school care won’t have to be one of them.

This is the place to find news, information and resources to help you make decisions about the children under your care and support you in this adventure we call "parenting."