Thanks for all the help guys! I'll look into getting some pure ammonia hopefully this weekend, I might have to order it online (no car).
My kit did come with a filter (pictured below), I just haven't been using it since I was told I don't need it, but you make some good points so I think I'll give it a try! It's not a "sponge filter" per se, but I did also buy a box of sponges to try and wedge into the intake. I also have a filter media bag I could wrap around the intake (also pictured below), do you think that'll work just as good as a sponge in keeping the fry from getting sucked up? I'll definitely price some sponge filters on Amazon though regardless.
Also, regarding the quick starter: I forgot to mention, I used some of the stuff pictured below at the start of the cycle. Since it says it "allows instant addition of fish" I assumed it works as a dechlorinator as well as a cycle jump-starter (I hope I was correct in the assumption).
As for winter break, I figured I have a couple options:
1) Sell my cherries to a local LFS for store credit and start over in the spring, or
2) Package the shrimp in a way similar to the way they're packaged when you order them in the mail, and take them on the 3-hour drive back home in San Antonio like that. (I'd also transport the tank with the water mostly removed. Since the bacteria live in the gravel, ornaments, etc my understanding is that I could add them back to the tank as soon as I got home)