Moving to Berkeley next year; Timing for BAM & LEARNS

My family and I plan to move back to our home state and live in Berkeley (after living in Minnesota for 10 years) and would love your insight on afterschool childcare in the city. I lived here prior to having my daughter so I only know it from the perspective of a child-less party animal :p

We plan to move back next Summer and hope to enroll our child in Berkeley Arts Magnet and also hope to be able to secure a spot in the LEARNS program. Our hope is to live within the zip code to make chances of acceptance better. What are the chances of being able to secure both this late in registration? Is BAM a hard-to-get-into school? Is LEARNS a highly sought after program with a long waitlist? Are there other schools that you recommend that might have a well-rounded curriculum of art and academics? Or even free/low-cost Montessori schools for elementary? In Saint Paul, our daughter is enrolled in a Montessori school funded by the public school system. 

I understand that I would not be able to register her for any Berkeley elementary schools during the enrollment period until we can show proof of residency--which we would not be able to do until we secured housing. This means that we would most likely not be able to apply until we move and settle in--so estimating around July 2024.

Any advice or insight would be most appreciated. 

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Hi, if you’re absolutely set on BAM, study the zoning maps and make sure you purchase (or rent) in that zone.  But also know that there are decent elementary schools in all the BUSD zones in Berkeley. 

As you might suspect, July for applying to BUSD is late. The good news is that all of the Berkeley Elementary schools are well regarded, even if you do not get BAM. it will be tough to get a spot with LEARNS at that point, aftercare fills up quickly. You could try other city based aftercare programs; folks often choose the Live oak one, and I believe busing is available. You will only really know when you are ready to apply what is/isn't available. Good luck! 

You will likely get a lot of replies that say the same thing, but here goes:

It's true that you can only apply for enrollment after you have moved. Elementary schools are assigned by lottery, based on what zone you live in, not zip code or proximity. If you are dead-set on BAM for some reason, you will need to move to the zone that feeds into BAM, and even then, it's up to a computer algorithm to assign schools. Since you are enrolling in the summer, you will be placed wherever there is room, and you won't be able to predict that. BAM isn't any more sought-after than any of the other schools, and all Berkeley schools are considered pretty great. You also can only get on the LEARNS waitlist after you have been accepted somewhere. The waitlist is very always very long, so it's best to have several backups in place.

Regarding Montessori schools, there are no charter schools in Berkeley. There are private Montessori schools, and if you think you might qualify for a scholarship, you can try applying for one. Best of luck with your move and enrollment.

Berkeley school assignment is not determined by zip code, but by school zone, so you'll want to look at the school zone map and choose a home in one of the two BAM zones (Central and Northwest). Even then there is no guarantee of admission--but they will try to assign you to one of the schools in your zone, so I'd look at the other schools and decide which zone you prefer to be in based on that (and based on middle school options). Enrolling in July will put you at the end of the list for all of the schools so you will need to be flexible, and it may just come down to which schools have space in your child's grade. Aftercare space is limited and difficult to get into at most schools (especially applying late) so you may need a Plan B for that. The earlier you can get a lease, the better. There is also a public Montessori charter school (Urban Montessori) in Oakland that is open to Berkeley residents, so that could be an option if you want to continue Montessori in some form. Their enrollment timeline may be more flexible. Good luck with the move!

The JCC is near BAM, and has a good after-school program with a lot of choices. There's some Jewish content, particularly on Fridays, but many of the children are from families with other faith traditions or no religion.) In the past they walked the children over, I'm not sure what is happening now in terms of transportation.

Even if you apply by the deadline you are not guaranteed to get your first choice.  They assign kids to balance demographics and many people do not get the school they want.  Applying late your chances will be even lower.  All the BUSD schools are very similar - the difference is more about distance and start time.  It is also quite difficult to buy or rent a home here so it might be a challenge to find something in your desired zone.  In retrospect I wish we had moved to Albany where kids actually live walking distance from their school friends.  My daughter is 10 and has zero friends within walking distance while her friend in Albany can just go meet up with her friends on her own and is much more independent.  My daughter will also be going to middle school without any of her elementary friends due to the new middle school zoning rules.  Regarding Learns - at my daughter's school it is much easier to get a spot in the older grades as most families have been able to make alternate plans by now.  The program is extremely poorly run but still has long waitlists for the younger grades because there are so few options.  

If I were you I'd stay in St. Paul! (I used to live there too.) Kidding aside, I suspect you will hear the same story from all who reply to your post: It is hard to get a spot in a BUSD LEARNS program. For reference, for two consecutive years (TK and K) we submitted enrollment materials to the district at the earliest possible date, registered for the LEARNS waitlist at the earliest possible date, and then registered for our assigned school at the earliest possible date (which you need to do before your are considered for a spot in LEARNS). We didn't get a spot either time. There are multiple factors that determine your eligibility, BUSD gives weight to things like household income, returning students, children of BUSD staff, sibling status. So those factors, should they apply to your situation, do improve your chances. But the bottom line is that demand for LEARNS far exceeds capacity. And applying for a spot so late in the game means that unless you meet the income-qualified criterion, I'd guess the probability of getting a spot approaches zero. I would recommend that you try and register for one of the City of Berkeley after school programs as soon as you can document residency in Berkeley. There are three of them, and depending on which one your child attends and where your child goes to school, BUSD will provide after school bus transportation to the site. Or, try and register for the program at the Berkeley JCC, or the New School. Both have relationships with BUSD and lots of families send their kids there. I wish you good luck. 

BAM isn't actually an arts magnet anymore. It is a regular elementary school like any other in Berkeley. You get assigned the school by lottery within your zone. Your best bet would be to try and make it for round 2 of the lottery. If you don't make it then and you're willing to move partway through the school year that is another option. I don't think any particular elementary school is more sought after than the others except for Sylvia Mendez, which is Spanish immersion. LEARNS is very impacted. There are other options however. If you land at BAM one option nearby is the JCC and the New School. The City of Berkeley also runs programs at a variety of parks. The sign up for those are in June. Really, it doesn't matter much which elementary school you get into. I would base my decision on 1) start time 2) proximity to your residence 3) aftercare options (e.g. there are some small differences here at the different schools). 

Berkeley has a lottery system for the public schools based on zone. All of the schools follow essentially the same curriculum as a result and all of the elementary schools are great. As you mentioned in your post, you won't be able to register until you have proof of residency. If you don't end up in the central zone (where BAM is), the chances of getting placed at BAM out-of-zone are quite low. You can look up addresses for potential homes here, which will tell you which zones: There is no way to know the chances of which school you will end up, especially if you enroll later. LEARNS is separate; people typically add their names to the waitlist in the spring and then find out a couple of weeks before school starts whether they got a spot. There are City of Berkeley aftercare programs as well. 

We're just starting out at BAM with our Kindergartener so this is based on my whopping <1 year of experience learning about BUSD and after school, so just know that up front. :) First, because you lived here before, maybe you know this, but just in case you don't, BAM isn't actually a magnet school nor an arts specialty school; it used to be but they haven't changed the name. It's just a regular elementary school, although a great one! If you're looking for a public school with a strong arts program, Malcom X actually has a fantastic performing arts program that is integrated into many aspects of the curriculum for all grades. MX would have been our first choice if we didn't live so far away.

Secondly, I wouldn't assume that living in the same neighborhood as the school will make your chances of acceptance better. Berkeley schools are a lottery system for each zone (make sure you choose a residence in the Northwest or Central Zone to be eligible for BAM) in which you rank your preferred schools, and supposedly ~75-80% of people get their top choice after the first round in Feb/March. The district tries to create diversity in each school, so you're not necessarily more likely to get into a school just because you live close. Also note that if you live farther than 1.5 miles from the school, you're eligible for bussing if your kiddo is interested in taking the bus (which can be a form of free childcare before school starts, which for BAM is 9am...). More info about zones and street lookup here:

BAM is a great school so I do think a lot of people want to get in, but truly all schools in Berkeley are great so I don't know that there's a ton of validity to which are the best. In general I feel like most people want to go to the school closest to them so that typically determines how desirable a school is for an individual family.

LEARNS is tough to get into, especially if you apply late, but we applied as soon as it opened and still didn't get a spot. Supposedly spots can open up throughout the fall if they hire more staff, so I've been told our kid will probably get in eventually but for now we've enrolled her at the JCC which provides a "walking bus" from BAM each day. We've heard great things about their afterschool program (art, outdoor play, game room, help with homework, library, etc) and were impressed when we had our orientation last week. It's more expensive than LEARNS and some of the afterschool programs offered by the city, but logistically easier because of the walking bus and not needing to re-register every couple of months like the city programs. I know there are other afterschool programs through The New School and others but I don't know much about that. It's not easy figuring it all out!

Hope some of this helps. Best of luck!!

I don't know how it is for BAM but for Emerson where our daughter goes, it was a lottery for LEARNS and a bunch of kids didn't get in.  We're doing an aftercare program called Kids in Motion because it was like the only option left for us. I think we had to submit all our paperwork in late march.  If you wait till july you're going to be at the mercy of whatever schools in your zone have spots and mostly likely a waitlist for BAM and LEARNS.  The nice thing about Berkeley is all the elementary school are pretty great so it's not like there are bad options, just different ones.

Lots of folks commented on BAM and LEARNS but I wanted to add that JCC is very expensive and fills fast. The City of Berkeley runs great affordable after school programs. Our was at Francis Albrier. They had dance and other great programs and they could get on the school bus after school to go there!