Children play outside during a YMCA after school program at Wolf Canyon Elementary School in Chula Vista on Nov. 29, 2022. / Photo by Ariana Drehsler
Children play outside during a YMCA after school program at Wolf Canyon Elementary School in Chula Vista on Nov. 29, 2022. / Photo by Ariana Drehsler

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Finding an after school program, and getting into one, can be tricky. There is no comprehensive list for San Diego-area parents to navigate. That’s in part because funding, staffing and demand are different at each school.  

The COVID-19 pandemic has made the childcare problem worse because many parents had to take on additional jobs or hours while schools and organizations faced staffing shortages, which meant both higher demand and fewer spots in after school programs.  

However, in the fiscal year 2023 state budget, every school district received more money and instructions to provide before- and after-school activities.  

The programs are locally run, so the first stop for any parent interested in securing a spot for their child should be the school. That’s where parents can get an accurate list of options to choose from and specific details about the programs like hours, activities, cost and transportation.

There are three main avenues for after-school care:

  • School districts operate free programs using government funding.
  • School districts are license-exempt and run their own fee-based program. 
  • School districts partner with organizations to offer licensed child care options at a cost.

Here’s an overview of the largest programs that serve elementary and middle school students in the San Diego area.

Children play outside during a YMCA after school program at Wolf Canyon Elementary School in Chula Vista on Nov. 29, 2022. / Photo by Ariana Drehsler

A Team Effort

Community organizations, including the YMCA, SAY and Harmonium partner with school districts to provide state-funded after school programs for students across San Diego. The San Diego Unified School District runs the largest extended day program called PrimeTime.  

San Diego Unified School District  

PrimeTime program 

  • Free 
  • Offered at 117 elementary and middle schools and the list is growing for 2023 
  • Activities are on site at the school 
  • Before and after school care during the school year and summer 
  • Provides academic, social, music, arts and athletic activities 
  • Serves students in universal transitional kindergarten (UTK) through 8th grade 
  • Hours vary based on school, but most run through 6 p.m. 

How and When do Parents Apply?  

Students are not guaranteed a spot in their school’s PrimeTime program. If they are not accepted, students will be placed on a waitlist. Students are selected using a rating system that gives priority to families who need it most based on these four factors:  

  1. If their child participated in PrimeTime during the previous school year or is on the PrimeTime waitlist for the upcoming school year. 
  2. Single parent household or families with one parent/guardian currently on military deployment. 
  3. All parents/guardians living with the child are employed full time and/or are full-time students. 
  4. Child recommended for academic assistance by the district 

The online application process for the 2023-24 PrimeTime program starts in March. The initial application period is six weeks, but families can apply throughout the school year. 

For more information, visit the YMCA website, call (858) 863-3633 or email

The YMCA also partners with several other school districts to provide after school care. 

Chula Vista Elementary School District 


STRETCH: A Safe Time for Recreation and Tutoring of Children 

  • Free 
  • Offered at 20 elementary and charter schools designated as “Title 1” 
  • Provides academic, physical and social activities 
  • Serves students in transitional kindergarten through 6th grade, depending on the school 
  • Operates until 6 p.m. daily when schools are open 

For more information, visit the YMCA website, call (619) 318-9658 or email  

DASH Program 

DASH: Dynamic After School Hours 

  • Free 
  • Offers homework help, social activities and exercise 
  • Serves students in transitional kindergarten through 6th grade, depending on the school 
  • Runs for 2.5 hours after school on regular days / 3.5 hours on minimum days 
  • Maximum of 50 students per program – homeless youth are the first priority 
  • Application rating system that prioritizes students based on these factors: 
  • Qualify for free and reduced lunch 
  • Applied for DASH and will attend five days a week for at least half of the program 
  • At least one parent/guardian is currently active duty military or deployed 
  • At least one parent is a Chula Vista school district employee 
  • Operates at 27 elementary schools across the district 

For more information, visit the YMCA website, call (619) 421-9622 or email 

Children at a YMCA after school program at Wolf Canyon Elementary School in Chula Vista on Nov. 29, 2022. / Photo by Ariana Drehsler

Other School Districts Across San Diego County

The YMCA also operates free expanded learning programs, located directly on school campuses, with similar offerings in the following school districts:  

Encinitas Union School District

Priority is given to students in grades 1 though 6, and those who can attend for 5 days a week. (For more information, email or call (760) 525-1839)  

Escondido Union School District

Students are accepted based on the date the application was received. Each school site has its own contact, so for more information reach out to or your school  

Darnall Charter School 

Applications can be turned in on site. (For more information, email or call 619-539-5281) 

San Pasqual Union School 

There is a $50 registration fee. (For more information call (760) 825-8662)  

Magnolia Public Schools 

This program serves 6th to 8th graders. (For more information, email or call (619) 346-9984) 

National School District  

For more information, call (619) 323-6845 or email 

San Ysidro School District 

For more information, email 

After School Programs You Pay for

In addition to free, state-funded programs, some school districts provide childcare programs that are licensed by the Department of Social Services. The programs can offer on-site child care before, during and after school, but families must pay for it.  

These licensed childcare programs are not operated by the school district and the organizations running the programs rent school facilities to provide the childcare services. 

Families can apply for scholarships or vouchers to help pay for child care services. Parents may also be able to use employer benefits to pay for these programs. 

Parents should reach out to the school directly for options because each one may offer different clubs and programs through different organizations.  

San Diego Unified School District parents can also contact the SDUSD Extended Learning Opportunities Department at 858-503-1870 for additional programs offered at the school sites. 

YMCA – Character Builders 

The YMCA Character Builders program offers on site before and after school care for students in TK through middle school in multiple school districts. Parents need to register through the YMCA in April or May. 

How much does it cost? Fees are paid monthly and the pricing depends on the school and the service. Parents can contact the YMCA to learn more about need-based scholarships. 

At Chula Vista Elementary School, the cost ranges from $56 to $163 per week, depending on the hours and frequency of care. 

There are 45 schools that offer the Character Builders program through several YMCA branches.  

For more information, visit the YMCA website. 

The Boys & Girls Club of Greater San Diego 

There are 23 Boys & Girls Clubs that provide after school care and activities for about 2,000 kids each day in the San Diego area. They are located throughout the city of San Diego, National City, Poway, Forest Ranch, Escondido, Ramona, Valley Center and Borrego Springs.  

The 12 clubhouses have different amenities, but each provides a place for kids to come after school and during school breaks. They are open to any kids who can get there, regardless of where they go to school. Most sites provide transportation for kids coming from the main feeder schools in that area. There are also 11 clubs that operate at individual schools. 

The branch locations serve kindergarteners through 8th graders and the age groups at school sites depend on that school. The programs typically run from 2 p.m to 6 p.m Monday through Friday and some may be open for sports leagues later into the evenings and on weekends.  

How much does it cost? The membership is open to anyone and costs $60 a year. Some locations have additional fees that can range from $5 to $15 for the after school program and transportation or are based on income. If the program is at a school, there are no additional fees because it’s funded by the school or district. Scholarships are also available. 

How and when should parents apply? Parents need to fill out a membership application, but membership does not guarantee a spot because the number of spaces can be limited at locations due to staffing shortages at the clubhouse or of bus drivers. The club gives preference to families currently attending the program and who are enrolled in the summer camp. 

The critical time for parents to sign up is mid-July through the end of August. They pay and secure their spot on a month to month basis. There are waitlists at some locations, and children on the list could be added each month as others drop out.  

For more information, contact your local club. 


Harmonium provides two programs for students in the San Diego Unified School District: the free PrimeTime program and a licensed child care program called Klassic Kids. 

Klassic Kids is a private before and after school program that provides year round child care on school campuses. The cost of the fee-based program varies by school.  

The program is available to children ages four to 12 years old at the following schools: Ericson, Green, Hage, Hardy, Jerabek, Loma Portal, Pacific Beach, Sandburg and Zamorano.  

Social Advocates for Youth (SAY) 

SAY provides PrimeTime programs and licensed extended day programs across San Diego. The licensed programs offer daily academic assistance, physical education, snacks and activities related to nature, science, technology engineering, creative arts and math before and after school.

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