When a state licenser visited Kim Shaw’s first family childcare home and casually revealed there were “no models of excellence” in her Southeast Raleigh zip code, Shaw knew the order of her next steps.
“I took that as a challenge and set it as a goal,” Shaw said. “I wanted to be nationally accredited.”
In 2000, right around the time the state Division of Child Development introduced its five-level Star Rated License, Shaw’s A Safe Place became the first nationally accredited five-star family childcare home in Raleigh.
Since then, Shaw has expanded to become A Safe Place Child Enrichment Centers, with three five-star locations in the Raleigh area: on Cross Link Road in Southeast Raleigh, Clarendon Crescent in Midtown, and Mechanical Boulevard in Garner. Although the decision to transform from a “home” to a “center” meant starting over with licensing and paying out of pocket for renovations, it also meant making room for her niece, Madison, then 2, following Shaw’s sister’s death from cancer. Within six months, A Safe Place became the first five-star center to serve Southeast Raleigh, excluding Wake Medical Center, which then served only its employees.
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And for over a decade, A Safe Place has been a pioneer launching pad for early childhood development student interns from colleges, universities and high schools. One intern has been A Safe Place teacher for 11 years. This year, nine interns hail from Southeast Raleigh High School, Wake Technical College and UNC Greensboro.
Last year, A Safe Place on Cross Link Road became one of the first four of eight Raleigh childcare centers tapped for Preventing Obesity by Design, or POD, a project of Smart Start and the N.C. State University Natural Learning Initiative to encourage childcare centers to get children to eat healthy and exercise more.
Now, A Safe Place menus have changed to include at least 10 fresh fruits and vegetables a week, free-range eggs, red meat served only once a week, fish every Friday, new introductions such as salmon, eggplant and asparagus, and nothing fried. The traditional snack of juice and crackers has been replaced by a salad bar every afternoon, using tomatoes the children grow themselves in the backyard of A Safe Place.
In addition to tomatoes, the children are harvesting pumpkins, a few of which will be featured at a Pumpkin Patch fundraiser later this month, with proceeds going to the PTA, which supports A Safe Place teachers.
Before long, Shaw added, production and tasting gardens will grow, and chickens will inhabit the chicken coop.
“Even I didn’t see us this far, and now I see the chickens and the goats and all of these things happening in my community – and for my children,” Shaw said.
To promote more exercise, the playground now has walking and bike trails that cover more ground. Shaw also hired fitness specialist Tia D. Williams to create a preschool fitness program.
“If you stretch them out, they will follow that path,” Shaw said. “We’ve seen that happen.”
Shaw began her home childcare business in the Fox Fire neighborhood where I grew up. I’d notice it on trips home, and now know I’ve been watching Shaw’s expansion, including buying the Cross Link location, then a fledgling daycare. Within six months, Shaw brought the center from a three-star rating to five stars.
A Safe Place on Cross Link is now licensed for 47 children. There are infants, toddlers and about 36 children in the state pre-kindergarten program administered by Smart Start.
The philosophy Shaw passes on to her staff ultimately means cries aren’t status quo, nobody gets hurt, and everybody feels empowered, has self-worth and confidence, and is excited about learning.
“I feel like we’re leaving a mark that can’t be erased,” she added, continuing with the No. 1 rule for staff: “Treat them (children) as you would like to be treated.
“Give them the love and the hugs. You can’t go wrong,” she said. “That’s always been the foundation of the whole child: If you feed me some good food in a pleasant, clean environment, there isn’t anything I cannot do.
“When I am exposed to the alphabet, I’m going to gobble that alphabet up,” she said, noting A Safe Place uses the state’s Creative Curriculum.
That regimen stood out for Travis and Paula Jones when choosing childcare for their daughters, Jaylin, now 11, and Nina, now 9.
“She was offering Spanish classes and computer classes which, at that age, was unheard of, especially in Southeast Raleigh,” Paula Jones said. “You don’t get that in this neck of the woods.”
“That really stood out, the attention she pays to what our children need and what they can benefit from,” she added. “She was really teaching them the things of life.”