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Scaling Up: Cambridge’s Efforts to Expand Access to High-Quality Preschool and Afterschool Programs

Monday, June 26, 2023

The City of Cambridge is taking significant steps to improve early childhood education and afterschool care. The Cambridge Office of Early Childhood (OEC) is spearheading the effort to develop universal preschool (UPK) through the Cambridge Preschool Program, which will provide free school day, school year preschool to all 4-year-olds in Cambridge and some 3-year-olds with specific needs. The Cambridge Preschool Program will help families find information about preschool options, apply for and be matched with a preschool using a new universal application, and begin their preschool placement in the fall of 2024.

Cambridge Preschool Program Development in Cambridge

City and school leaders, as well as a wide range of community and early childhood stakeholders, have been working together with OEC to ensure the Cambridge Preschool Program’s smooth and successful implementation. OEC has been engaged in extensive research and data collection to make informed decisions, including partnering with Harvard to study the early childhood workforce and conducting family and program capacity surveys. Additionally, OEC is partnering with Harvard University, Lesley University, and Fisher College to develop professional development pathways for early childhood educators and working to increase the number of high-quality community-based early learning centers. The Office has also expanded access to financial assistance for high-quality preschool.
To support the development of the Cambridge Preschool Program, the City has hired a UPK Project Manager with more positions to be added to the OEC team as the program expands. By the end of FY24, families with 4-year-old children and eligible 3-year-old children in Cambridge will have a single point of access for preschool information, and they will be able to apply using a new universal application.

Expanding Access to Out-of-School-Time and Afterschool Programs

The Department of Human Service Programs (DHSP) recognizes the critical role afterschool care plays in the social and emotional development of children and in supporting working families. For Fall 2023, DHSP will add 170 seats by expanding at 7 afterschool sites. The department is also working with nonprofit colleagues in the Cambridge Out-of-School Time (OST) community to expand the number of seats available starting in September 2023. DHSP held a lottery for families to apply to 3 DHSP afterschool programs in May 2023, with placement notifications expected to go out in June. Families have the option to re-enroll their children in the same site to ensure continuity of care.

There is a significant shortage of OST seats to serve all the children whose families want to send them to an afterschool program. Currently, the City of Cambridge offers 20 of the 27 full-week afterschool programs for elementary school-aged children (grades JK-5) through 4 program models: Childcare Afterschool, Community Schools, King Open Extended Day, and Youth Centers. DHSP offers 1,102 JK-5th grade seats, and an additional 195 seats for 6th-8th grades are offered by the Youth Centers. Seven community-based programs offer an additional 405 seats. Together, DHSP and community-based programs provide afterschool to 42% of Cambridge Public Schools’ JK-5 students, which is higher than state and national averages.

In 2021, DHSP made equity-driven changes to its application process, creating a lottery system and sliding scale tuition fees based on household income. Although the department had planned to expand Community Schools’ capacity by over 100 seats in 2022, it was unable to do so because of staffing challenges caused by a significant decline in the number of childcare workers entering or re-entering the job market.

Looking Ahead

Despite the challenges, Cambridge is making important strides in improving early childhood education and afterschool care. The City’s commitment to expanding access to high-quality preschool and afterschool programs reflects its dedication to supporting families and children’s well-being. DHSP has committed to developing a 3 year plan for additional expansion of afterschool seats. The Cambridge Office of Early Childhood will continue to work diligently to scale its existing work in direct alignment with the vision for the Cambridge Preschool Program, and DHSP will continue its efforts to expand access to OST experiences. These initiatives will help ensure that Cambridge children have access to the resources they need to succeed.

Early Childhood Education Training Program

Are you interested in a career as an early childhood educator?
The City of Cambridge is recruiting participants for the next training program, which runs from October 2023 – May 2024.
The free program includes:
Early Childhood Education Training Program

  • Online early childhood course
  • Weekly class to support online coursework
  • Paid internship at licensed early childhood program in Cambridge
  • Coaching to apply for Child Development Associate® (CDA) Credential
  • Help with career planning
Application deadline is June 30, 2023. Learn more at Cambridgema.gov/EarlyChildhoodCareer



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