best public schools in santa cruz

Back to School and After School Enrichment Guide

best public schools in santa cruz

Summer is coming to a close and kids and parents are getting ready for a new school year. As children take on new experiences in the classroom they are also growing and challenging themselves in other areas. This year’s Back to School Guide gives an overview of some of the many options available to develop, increase or augment a skill or interest as well as options in classroom and preschool education. Whether it’s looking at a new school, learning to paint, being tutored in French or participating in dance, there are many quality programs available to enrich our children’s lives.

Schools and Preschools

Coastal Community Preschool
Lic #444408854
900 High Street, Santa Cruz

CCP serves children ages 2 years 3 months through 5 years with a safe, stimulating, and caring learning atmosphere. We have a curriculum that encourages development at each child’s own pace. Among our program highlights, we offer flexible year-round schedules, a highly experienced teaching staff, and a bright, secure West side location overlooking the Monterey Bay. Join us as we continue working with parents and caregivers to raise a community of strong, confident and happy children.

Gateway School K-8
Where Experience and Innovation Meet
Santa Cruz, CA

Gateway School offers a dynamic, challenging education that prepares children for the fast-changing world by focusing on scholarship, citizenship and compassion. Using neuroscience and research to inform our program, we teach reasoning, collaboration, kindness and the other essential skills that lead to academic excellence and personal integrity. Our expert teachers empower students to recognize injustice, to advocate for others, and to stand up for those who need help. Founded in 1970, Gateway was the first school in the county to build a maker’s space, institute a mindfulness curriculum, and implement a comprehensive SEL program. We are the only K-8 school in Santa Cruz accredited by the California Association of Independent Schools. We invite all families interested in Gateway School to visit, ask questions, and get to know our community! For more information and to schedule a tour, please call or visit our website.

Kirby School
425 Encinal St., Santa Cruz
Grades 6 through 12

Kirby School empowers students to shape their futures with confidence. Our independent, non-sectarian middle and high school has been preparing students for college and beyond for over 20 years. In classes averaging 12 students, teachers are responsive to each learner’s strengths and interests. Our rigorous academic and arts curriculum, intensive study paths, and inspiring faculty challenge each student based on their interests and readiness, rather than grade level. Kirby graduates go on to attend excellent four-year colleges and universities.

Live Oak School District
984-1 Bostwick Lane, Santa Cruz
(831) 475-6333

Located in the heart of Santa Cruz County, Live Oak School District is the only California Exemplary District on the Monterey Bay. Our mission is to empower, inspire and ensure equitable opportunities for every student to thrive. We teach and nurture the whole child in an academically rigorous, collaborative and innovative learning environment. Our district includes three K-5 schools: Del Mar, Green Acres and Live Oak Elementary; and Shoreline Middle School. In addition, Ocean Alternative offers a K-8 homeschool and online program. We are currently enrolling PK-8 students. Contact us at 475-6333, or visit our website at

Mount Madonna School
Pre/K-12th grade
491 Summit Road, Mount Madonna

MMS strives to prepare well-rounded human beings who not only get into and succeed in college, but learn to value collaboration, form meaningful relationships and engage with their local communities, nation and the world. The CAIS and WASC-accredited program features a Montessori-based Pre/K program, 375-acre campus, science and technology labs, life skills, regional, national and international travel, mixed-grade buddy program, marine biology and oceanography on Catalina Island, athletics, and visual and performing arts. Since 1979, students preschool through grade 12 have received a solid education based on academic excellence, positive character development and creative self-expression, and where each person is supported in becoming a caring, self-aware and articulate critical thinker, who is prepared to meet challenges with perseverance, creativity and integrity.

Mrs. Bus Stop Preschool
Lic #444411906
3215 Axford Road, 
Santa Cruz (near Capitola Mall) 

Come join us at Mrs. Bus Stop Preschool! Your child will experience the joy of making new friends as they explore, learn, and grow together. Our nurturing environment naturally promotes a sense of community and the well-being of every child. Ages 2-5 years. Hours: 7:30 a.m.- 5:30 p.m. Flexible schedules.

Nature’s Nursery Preschool
Ages 2.5 – 5 years old
Local state parks
[email protected]
[email protected]

Nature’s Nursery School is a Waldorf influenced outdoor morning program for children ages 2.5 – 5 years old M – Th. We will spend our mornings exploring local parks where the imagination is the limit. Organic snacks and lunch are provided. With over 25 years of teaching experience, Laurie Dodt is a trained Waldorf early childhood teacher and she has completed the Professional Puppetry Training Course offered through Juniper Tree Puppets. Laurie is devoted to creating a sense of wonder and awe through storytelling, movement, singing, speech, and art. Enroll your child where they will be nurtured in nature. Space is limited.

Ocean Alternative Education Center & Ocean Online

Ocean Alternative, Live Oak School District, supports your homeschooling adventure. Seven credentialed teachers are available to guide you to build an exciting education plan for your child. Our weekly classes include literacy, math, science, and art. Students learn to communicate and collaborate in a group-learning environment. Community events, field trips & more! Ocean Online is a non-classroom based independent study program. We offer a wide range of services including: quality, adaptable online curriculum, weekly teacher consultation and instruction, assessment and feedback, social networks of homeschooling families, resources, and a Chromebook to loan.

Orchard School K-6
2288 Trout Gulch Road, Aptos

Orchard School, established over 30 years ago, provides a unique, yet comprehensive K-6 education. At Orchard, we weave together the magic of an extraordinary faculty, a 14-acre campus and a down to earth philosophy that nourishes and honors the natural growth and development of children. Small class sizes, an organic garden and an animal farm create enriching “whole child” learning experiences that are hands-on and individualized. We provide Strong Core Academics, Excellent Science Curriculum, Art, Music, Physical Theater/Circus Arts, Electives, Ceramics, Archery, Swimming, Leadership, Field Trips, Drama Productions, and more.

Play, Laugh and Learn
4000a Granite Creek Road, Scotts Valley

Encouraging developmental growth in a loving and secure environment! Play Laugh n Learn is an in-home daycare and preschool dedicated to nurture the growth and well being of your children ages 0 to 5. We are located in Scotts Valley off of Granite Creek Rd, about 100 feet up from the freeway. We offer a curriculum where we learn through activities, fun lessons, circle time, games and daily crafts. We are all Inclusive with organic meals, diapers and wipes included. 

Rose Blossom Nursery School
Preschool, T-K, Kindergarten
Lic #444403616
6401 Freedom Blvd, Aptos

Register for Fall 2019. Preschool, T-K, & Kinder for girls and boys starting at 2.5 years old. 9am-12pm. Before school care starts at 8am, after school care until 2pm. Strong focus on social and emotional development, to create a cooperative school community. We offer a play-based and emergent curriculum covering: alphabet/reading, writing, numbers/math, science and social studies, integrated with creative drama, games, music, and art, and organized into monthly themes and musical performances. Individualized instruction, age-appropriate activities, circle time, and free play. Rose Blossom is an NVC-based school. Since June of 2000 we have been practicing the Compassionate Communication process that was taught by Dr. Marshall Rosenberg. Beautiful, country setting in Aptos. See website for intro video and Facebook page for updates and activities. Contact Sharon Rose, director, for tour and registration info.  email: [email protected]

Spring Hill School
250 California Street, Santa Cruz

Raise a creative, confident, compassionate child at Spring Hill School!  A PreK-6th Grade program, the STEAM and Language Arts focused curriculum helps students develop empathy along with critical thinking. Featuring a Design Lab, students invent and discover how to contribute to the world around them.  Spring Hill applies a growth mindset to identify each child’s readiness for the next step on their learning path. With expert teachers specializing in small class sizes, children experience a vibrant learning environment where each is valued for their strengths and supported to embrace the next challenge.  Contact us for a personal tour: 831-427-2641,

Tara Redwood School
Elementary Campus
4746 Soquel Drive, Soquel

Preschool Campus
5810 Prescott Road, Soquel

Since 1989, Tara Redwood School has been empowering children to make a positive difference in the world by educating the heart and mind. We nurture the innate positive qualities within each child, while awakening their curiosity and love for learning. Our curriculum is an integration of Creating Compassionate Cultures and Montessori Methodologies. This includes a strong focus on global studies, sciences and environment, creative arts, social emotional learning and compassion in action. Classes include: Preschool for ages 2 – 5 years and Elementary for children TK- 6th grade. Our classes are multi-age with low student – teacher ratio. Register now to ensure your space. Phone or visit our website to learn more.

Santa Cruz Waldorf School
Parent-Child Classes and Preschool-8th 
2190 Empire Grade, Santa Cruz
[email protected]

Waldorf Education nourishes the whole human being in every phase of development. In Preschool and Kindergarten, children learn through supervised free play, protected from inappropriate intellectual demands. Elementary school is filled with rich and deep study of the whole of human experience, engaging head, heart, and hands – math, science, and reading, fully integrated with artistic development and bodily engagement through crafts and movement. Waldorf graduates love to learn and are prepared for whatever is to come next. They thrive on solving problems. Colleges and universities are now seeking them out for their promise, for the whole human beings that they are. Visit our campus, which borders UCSC and is touched by redwoods.

Westside Parent Education Nursery School
1231 Bay St. Santa Cruz est 

Westside PENS celebrating 49 years… 

WPENS is located on the Westside on the Bay View Elementary campus. Preschoolers and their parents play, learn and grow together. This exceptional preschool program brings out children’s ideas and creativity. Adults develop their parenting skills and build friendships with other families. Thrive in a supportive environment at this much-loved parent co-op, a part of the Santa Cruz community since 1970. Its award-winning teachers inspire a passion for learning. WestsideParent Education Nursery School was the 2016 Santa Cruz Sentinel’s Readers’ Choice for Best Preschool! WPENS is a part of Watsonville/Aptos/Santa Cruz/Adult School under the Pajaro Valley Unified School District.  

Santa Cruz Parent Education Nursery School
411 Roxas Street, Santa Cruz

A Community Treasure Since 1975. Santa Cruz Parent Education Nursery School (SCPENS), is a parent participation preschool which serves children from 1 to 5 years of age.
Santa Cruz PENS celebrating 44 years …     

SCPENS provides affordable, high-quality toddler and preschool programs. A parent education co-op preschool, SCPENS offers an opportunity for parents to develop their parenting skills and meet other families in a supportive environment. Children and their parents participate in a developmental toddler or preschool program emphasizing children’s expression,  ideas and creativity. The instructors provide training in child development and effective parenting techniques via seminars, observation and discussion. Positive guidance and problem-solving strategies are emphasized. SCPENS is a part of Watsonville/Aptos/Santa Cruz Adult Schools and the Pajaro Valley Unified School District. 

Soquel Parent Education Nursery School
397 Old San Jose Road, Soquel

Soquel PENS celebrating 70 years . . .  

Soquel PENS provides a high-quality preschool experience for children ages 2.5 to 5 while simultaneously providing parent education.  Both children and parents are provided a rich learning environment to explore, question, gain information, observe, discuss, develop friendships and establish a place of acceptance within our community. Parent’s develop skills in supporting their child’s school success in the years ahead and gain invaluable skills in establishing life-long healthy family relationships.  Our school’s teaching philosophy is based in open, creative, child-driven exploration of curriculum materials in art, science, cooking, literacy, numbers, and physical skills balanced with structured participation in group and snack time. This is all guided by veteran teachers well trained in the arts of child development, communication and parenting skills, and human psychology. Soquel PENS is a part of Watsonville/Aptos/Santa Cruz/Adult School under the Pajaro Valley Unified School District.

After School Activities

Aaron J. Clegg Tutoring and Music Lessons
[email protected]
(408) 646-2826

Aaron J. Clegg offers tutoring (math, physics, and German) as well as music lessons (saxophone, flute, and Celtic style wooden flute and penny-whistle) for all ages.  A credentialed teacher since 2001, Aaron has worked in public and private schools, science museum outreach, and residential science camps for most of his career. At the same time, since 2008 he has offered private lessons and tutoring.  One private student said, “Aaron is incredibly patient and I always felt he truly cared about my success as a student and a person.” Call with questions or to schedule a lesson today!

Adventure Sports Unlimited
303 Potrero St., #15, Santa Cruz

Adventure Sports Unlimited (ASU) is the premier store for aquatics instruction in Santa Cruz. We teach infants through adults the joy of water through our Swim School. Our instructors strive to develop a trusting, special relationship with each child, encouraging them in a gentle but firm manner to stretch their limits as abilities grow. It all starts in our custom-built aquatics facility with our tropically heated pool including Jacuzzi, and classroom. We want to make your entry into the water world truly enjoyable. ASU-you deserve it!

All About Theatre
325 Washington St, Santa Cruz

Celebrating 16 years of theater, and over 130 productions in Santa Cruz County. Offering training in the performing arts for children aged (3-6), Youth (6-10), Pre-teen & Teens (10-16) and Adults. Our upcoming Fall Season includes two premiere musicals, just off broadway; Matilda the Musical for all ages (10 through adults) and Frozen Jr. (6 to 10 year olds), as well as training and advancement classes in broadway dance, voice and more…. We will also be announcing our advanced teen production later this month (13-19 year olds). There’s a role for everyone and everyone will leave with skills that they didn’t have when they arrived. We rehearse predominantly at our downtown Santa Cruz. Come be a part of the magic…!

The Bookakery

Check out our Bookakery Boxes, monthly subscription boxes filled with picture books, recipes, baking tools and other goodies, curated to foster a love of reading and baking in kids and encourages parent-child activities. Bookakery Boxes facilitate activity based learning of reading, following instructions, counting and more. Bookakery Boxes are perfect for preschoolers and early elementary age children as they head back to school and throughout the year.

810 Bay Ave., Capitola
(831) 475-5032

Our School Year begins Sept. 3rd! Classes for all ages and levels in predance, ballet, modern, contemporary, jazz, tap, hip hop, and Latin. Expert teachers and supportive atmosphere…Come join the fun!

Dream Maker Creative
6412 Highway 9, Felton CA 95018

Dream Maker Creative is a hands-on crafts and maker studio providing DIY opportunities for ages 8 to adult. We offer after-school and home-school classes, weekend drop-in crafting, private parties, summer camps, craft kits and more. Follow us – Facebook & Instagram @dreammakercreative | @terracreate – View current kids class schedule

girls + data presents DATA CAMP a hands-on STEMinar
Looker Data Sciences
101 Church St, Santa Cruz
[email protected]

Interested in tech careers outside of computer science and robotics? girls + data might be for you! DATA CAMP is for middle school-aged girls that are interested in tech, but not sure about coding. At our event, you will learn about high demand tech careers in data, get hands-on with Looker (a data analytics platform) to build a data story, score some cool swag, snacks, and take selfies! Saturday September 21, 2019 from 9am – 12pm, OR 1:30pm – 4:30pm. Cost: $25 before 9/6, $30 after!

Jim Booth Swim School
Santa Cruz at Harvey West Pool and Watsonville at Duncan Holbert Pool 

At Jim Booth Swim School our comfortable 94° pools have always made swimming fun and enjoyable. When possible, we try to include all in our small group lessons. For those who need a caregiver, our recreation swim is free of charge to visit and enjoy the benefits of the pool. For more information call 831-722-3500.

JuneBug’s Gym
3910 Portola Drive Ste 2 & 3, Santa Cruz

JuneBug’s Gym is a place where your child from ages crawling-8 years of age can experience a fun filled adventure in movement and gymnastics. Leading research teaches us that brain development occurs through a child’s movement and motor development and directly enhances reading, writing and math skills. Our classes are designed to give your child a wide range of fun, creative and challenging movement activities in every class. Besides classes, we also have Open Gyms, birthday parties, and Parents Night Out! Come join the fun!

Kids Club Felton Presbyterian Church
6090 Hwy. 9
Felton, CA 95018

Free after school program, Wednesdays, 3:30 – 5:00, for kindergarten – 5th grade students. Kids will enjoy snacks, free-play, games, and Bible lessons. Bus transportation available to SLVE students. Resister at [email protected]

Kumon of Aptos & Kumon of Santa Cruz
831-508-8200 (Aptos) or
831-471-7904 (Santa Cruz)

For more than 60 years, Kumon’s after-school math and reading programs have helped children achieve academic success worldwide. We strive to instill in children the desire and motivation to learn on their own. Students advance through the program at their own pace. Our emphasis on individualized learning helps your child become focused and self-reliant. Whether your child is seeking enrichment, needs help catching up, or is just beginning their academic career, Kumon is designed to foster a love of learning!

Motion Pacific Dance
131 Front Street, Downtown Santa Cruz 

Motion Pacific provides dancers, ages 3-17 years old, the opportunity to experience dance in a context that values the individual and the creative process. We are dedicated to high-quality technical training within a non-competitive environment and offer access to many forms of dance. Our curriculum caters to each student’s strengths and is designed to encourage creative expression and a positive body image. Motion Pacific is a nurturing, exciting and dynamic setting for students who seek either sheer enjoyment or a career in dance. We offer Scholarships and Payment Plans for dancers 8 yrs and up. Open enrollment through September 30th. See website for class schedule and to register.

Music Together & Canta y Baila Conmigo w/MusicalMe, Inc.
Locations throughout Santa Cruz and Santa Clara County

Discover your Family’s Rhythm! Make music an exciting & enriching part of your child’s life. In our weekly classes, babies, toddlers, preschoolers, and the grownups who love them come together for 45 minutes of fun-filled, learning-filled, bonding-filled family time. You’ll have so much fun singing, dancing, playing, and laughing that you may not realize just how much learning is taking place.

We can help your child grow into a confident music-maker while also tapping into all the developmental benefits that music brings. As you discover fun ways to play with music and rhythms both & out of class, you’ll be supporting your child’s music-learning and overall development. Classes are offered throughout the year, with a new song collection each season.

Contact us today and bring the joy of music into your family’s life.

Santa Cruz Gladiators

Santa Cruz Gladiators is your local Rec & Santa Cruz County Futsal Competitive League! Futsal is variation of soccer played between two teams of five players each, one of whom is the goalkeeper. Unlike some other forms of indoor football, the game is played on a hard court surface delimited by line.The surface, ball, and rules together favor ball control and passing in small spaces. The game emphasis is on improvisation, creativity and technique. Be part of this growing sensation!  Affiliated with Cal North, US Futsal, USFF & FIFA. Be part of the Futsal craze.

Santa Cruz Gymnastics Center
2750 B Soquel Ave., Santa Cruz

We at Santa Cruz Gymnastics Center understand how important physical movement is to develop a healthy brain in children. Healthy brain development leads to proficiency in learning and overall confidence to lead a successful life. Our gymnastics instructors take pride in offering gymnastics training packed with fun in every class. Each lesson offers a wide range of sensory integration activities through the usage of our gymnastics equipment on floor, bars, balance beam, vault, trampoline, rings and our foam pit. We offer a wide range of classes and special activities to the new walking toddlers through teenage girls and boys. Check out our website to see what is available for your child today.

Santa Cruz Public Libraries
224 Church St., Santa Cruz, CA 95060

The Santa Cruz Public Libraries deliver information, education, enrichment and inspiration through a network of neighborhood library branches, a web-based digital library, a Bookmobile, and community-based programs. We improve reading readiness with early literacy classes, family crafts, and Read-to-Me kits; we support students with reading comprehension and homework tutoring, online resources for homework help, and project-based STEAM learning programs. We support the learning needs of all ages with internet access, computers, printing, Wifi, and high tech tools like 3D printers and virtual reality. Your library is a fun and safe place to gather after school, have some fun, and learn.

Santa Cruz Soccer Camp has witnessed over 30 years of making sport fun, entertaining, and empowering for boys and girls ages-5-15. At this camp, they are taught by skillful educators, who have graduated in Leadership Development ages 13-15 and have participated as young campers immersed in the philosophy of Making Soccer Fun.

Seahorse Swim School
Seascape Sports Club (Aptos) NEW! Private Home Pool (Aptos)
Santa Cruz Elks Lodge (Summer)
831.476.7946 (swim)

Swim Lessons: Group, private, semi-pvt, custom classes & a non-competitive swimteam for youth & teens. Parent-tot classes (6 months +) teach parents how to instruct babies safely. Instructors are engaging, fun & interactive. The positive, specific feedback used in classes builds confidence while learning new life-long, life-saving skills.

Tannery World Dance & Cultural Center
1010 River St, Santa Cruz, CA 95060

Tannery World Dance & Cultural Center is a dance and cultural hub located at the Tannery Arts Center. Children and Teen classes including modern, contemporary, ballet, African, hip hop and more! Visit our website:  or call: 425.1440 for more information.

Health and Well Being

Children’s Dentistry
7545 Soquel Dr, Aptos

We provide comprehensive dentistry in a caring environment for children of all ages. We are preventive-dentistry oriented and very thorough in our evaluations and consultations. We have a pediatric anesthesiologist on our premises and are able to treat special, challenging children safely and comfortably under a general anesthesia. We have a 24-hour emergency service available for all of our patients.

Dientes Community Dental Care
1830 Commercial Way, Santa Cruz (near Marshalls)

302 Riverside Avenue, Santa Cruz (near the Boardwalk)

1430 Freedom Blvd, Suite C, Watsonville (near Cardenas)

Dientes Community Dental Care is a full-service dental clinic with offices in Santa Cruz and Watsonville. We practice whole family dentistry including kids, adults and seniors; but children hold a special place in our heart – half of our patients are kids. In our Santa Cruz clinic, we have a dedicated pediatric wing where Dientes’ dentists excel at making parents and children comfortable and offering preventive education with each visit. As a non-profit dental clinic, our focus is on high-quality, low-cost dental services, including exams, x-rays, fillings, sealants and root canals. We accept Medi-Cal and have affordable rates for uninsured patients. We offer bi-lingual services – Se habla Español!

This is the place for education and resources about autism, ADHD, and sensory processing disorder. As a community, we tackle your child’s everyday sensory challenges, from handling the holidays to finding services. Diana is a licensed and registered occupational therapist who specializes in pediatric sensory issues. You can read her sensory tips and get a free Sensory Toolbox guide at

GUiSC is not responsible for any errors or omissions, nor does inclusion in this listing constitute our endorsement of a program. Listings were written by each organization and GUiSC has not confirmed the accuracy of the information provided. Please call the individual program to confirm details.