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

After-school care is a perennial problem for working parents – it can even be the difference between holding down a job. The lack of affordable care in the region has made the situation especially dire, pushing parents to rely on school district provided care. But when many parents turned to San Diego Unified’s PrimeTime program they found themselves on a seemingly interminable waitlist. 

That’s what happened to Jared Goossens, a single father of a San Diego Unified student. He languished on a waitlist for around a year and lost a job because of the need to build his life around his son’s school schedule. The ordeal left him in fear he’d lose his home and in a consistent state of stress.

But over the past eight months, San Diego Unified has slashed the number of parents on the waitlist limbo. In November, there were more than 4,600 families on that list. By March that dropped to around 3,100. And as of mid-July, the waitlist has shrunk to around 1,045.

Michael Murad, a district spokesman, wrote in an email that the waitlist is dropping daily as PrimeTime adds staff and new students are enrolled. Murad said the district’s goal is to eliminate the waitlist by the start of the new school year, but it’s not a guarantee. 

Still, school board member Shana Hazan said adding more spots is a real game-changer for kids and families because of how essential it is to have safe, reliable childcare.  

Hazan said what has allowed the district to hack away at the waitlist has been increased state funding. That funding has enabled the various private providers PrimeTime contracts out to staff sites – like the YMCA – to hire more people, thereby increasing the slots available for students. But some challenges persist. Some school sites have limited facilities because of renovations and staff can be hard to find. The district also anticipates more families will apply for the program throughout the year, so the waitlist could increase if facility and staffing doesn’t also increase. 

“With those dollars, that means the work is on us. It is our responsibility to make sure that providers are connected with families to meet their needs,” Hazan said. 

Hazan is quick to point out that the wait list reduction is far from just a metric. Having after-school care can be truly transformative for families, she said, beyond even the financial stability it may provide.  

“One of the things that I’m really curious about is if we can sustain this and provide that consistent before and after-school care for kids, what difference does it make for academic and social emotional outcomes?” Hazan said.  

Goossens was one of the thousands who got off a waitlist, and having stable childcare allowed him to take a job as a mail carrier for the United States Postal Service, where he’s worked for around two months. He said he already has the “mailman calves” to prove it. 

Jared Goossens picks up his son Everest from an after school program at Hardy Elementary School in the College area on April 5, 2023.
Jared Goossens picks up his son Everest from an after-school program at Hardy Elementary School in the College area on April 5, 2023. / Photo by Ariana Drehsler

Before he secured after-school care, Goossens worked delivering food and constantly stressed about the inconsistency of the pay. “That was just hustling,” Goossens said. “Now I have a retirement job.”  

He still faced the challenge of figuring out what to do over summer, but luckily, he found an affordable option through a friend. And the district has already followed up with him to enroll his son in PrimeTime for the coming year and ensured him he’d have a spot.  

“It’s a 300% difference in the amount of stress I was feeling,” Goossens said 

What’s more for Goossens is that he loves his job. He’s a hard worker, he said, and he doesn’t complain. He doesn’t make a whole lot now, but he knows that will change if he keeps it up. And he’s in it for the long haul. 

“It’s very satisfying. Everybody loves the mailman,” Goossens said.  

Except dogs, he added. 

Jakob McWhinney is Voice of San Diego's education reporter. He can be reached by email at and followed on Twitter @jakobmcwhinney. Subscribe...

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  1. But there are still so many schools with no free or subsidized Primetime options and only expensive 3rd party programs.

  2. It would have been more informative to know how many more children these programs serve now versus a year ago (e.g. were actually provided a spot in these programs). The waiting list getting shorter could easily include those who found something else on their own for their children or, say, gave up and became a stay-at-home parent.

    There was also some glossing over of the availability of care during all the various school breaks (including summer). Historically, may of SDUSD’s after-care programs have not offered all-day child care when school is not in session, leaving parents scrambling to find other options (especially affordable options).

    1. The numbers speak for themselves, I can see a difference first hand. Shana and the school district are doing what they can. Put trust into their actions.

  3. What others have to realize about being on the waitlist is that programs do not have enough staff to accommodate all the children. There is many rules and regulations that the programs have to follow which is the only reason for these long waitlists. The ratio is 20 children to 1 adult that’s for 1st-8th graders. The ratio for UTK and K is 10 to 1. If the schools have enough staff then of course we could accept more children. The programs are getting funding but there is no one who wants to work with children after school. If the district also focuses on funding to get the appropriate staffing in place then it would be a cause to celebrate the slashing of these waitlists. Otherwise what’s going to happen is that little staff that currently work the PrimeTime programs will be overwhelmed and eventually quit.

    1. I whole heartedly agree with you, but the numbers for after school care are 6-1. Considering this, the milestones made are dynamic to parents needing the care. We can all sit back and consider who needs it most. But ultimately it should be available to any parent that needs it. I am impressed by the effort made to reduce these numbers.

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