New Learning Center at ATC Reimagines Early Childhood Care

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Kate’s Korner Learning Center founder Kezia “Kate” Goodwin shares her mission to redefine early childhood care for kids and child care workers alike

Kezia “Kate” Goodwin stands in front of Kate’s Korner Learning Center, a concept four years in the making.

By Renee Ambroso | Photo by John Michael Simpson

Kezia “Kate” Goodwin strived to reimagine child care systems during her 34-year career in early childhood education, including as a pre-K teacher and as a director and district manager with KinderCare Learning Centers, among other roles. Now, as the co-founder of the nonprofit research and development group Truth Education Foundation and founder of Kate’s Korner Learning Center, she’s created an inclusive child care option for kids ages 6 weeks to 12 years old at the American Tobacco Campus. After about four years of preparation, Kate’s Korner held a grand opening on Jan. 6 and is slated to welcome its first students on Feb. 16.

What brought you to the area?

Kezia “Kate” Goodwin I moved to Durham in 2018. [I had] a conversation with my best friend [and co-founder of the Reinvention Road Trip], Jes Averhart about finding a place where I could do the work I wanted to do in equity and education. [Knowing] that education in Durham was seen with an equitable lens, [she and I thought] Durham would be a great place for me to do the work that I had been trying to do while I was living on the West Coast.

What drove you to open a child care center in Durham? 

KG I wanted to become a provider because I identified some of the inconsistencies that the early childhood industry had had prior to COVID-19, [specifically surrounding] equality and autonomy for child care center educators in their pay and in their roles. [I also noticed] the lack of access that most students in the Durham area were experiencing by not having an early childhood education [option that was financially] accessible for families, as well as the lack of child care providers after COVID-19 hit. I incorporated a drop-in model when I first [started developing Kate’s Korner]. After COVID-19, I wanted to operate on a full-service model. Those are what spurred me on – the industry’s heartache and that I wanted to create a space that addressed the major issue that is the expulsion of kids from early childhood classrooms, specifically of minority students, and more specifically, African American boys. That’s the driving force that was behind deciding to go out on my own to do this, bolstered by research on early childhood education that was done by Walter Gilliam at the Yale School of Medicine.

You say Kate’s Korner offers “innovative and inclusive child care” – describe what that means, and other aspects of the curriculum.

KG [Research shows] the necessity of early childhood education for children and the benefit of children being exposed to an early childhood experience, and how that makes them more successful in K-12 classrooms.

We also know that when a child is in an early child care setting and can see themselves in and identify with the curriculum and with their caregivers, that self-identity propels them even further. … An environment that is inclusive and creates acceptance and love for them will allow children to gain their own love of learning, which then spurs them to have better outcomes when they go into their kindergarten through sixth grade years.

One of the major parts of Kate’s Korner’s curriculum [is to help cultivate] social-emotional development. This means giving children the tools to be able to communicate their emotions, validating their emotions, helping them to self-regulate and learn conflict resolution skills.

How did you find your space at American Tobacco Campus? What has been your experience working with Capitol Broadcasting?

KG I sat down in a meeting with Michael GoodmonAdam Klein and Jes, and I talked to them about my dream. I spent days putting together a 10-point presentation to give to them, but it ended up being a very quick meeting, because I gave them the basic meat-and- potatoes of what I wanted to do and the essence of the “why” behind it – the necessity of early childhood education and lack of accessibility to it. Michael said, “Of course, we’re on board,” and “I’m glad you’re here.” … He threw the ball to Adam, who has been [supportive] beyond measure. Words can’t express how I feel about the going to bat for me that Adam has done.

The experience with Capitol Broadcasting has been an amazing one. They do not shy away from understanding that I am a small business, a Black- and female-owned business, and the hurdles that I had to jump through to get here. They were willing to work with me and believe wholeheartedly in supporting this endeavor. They invested more than half a million dollars in this $1.2 million project and have not wavered in any way, shape or form in getting it done with me and for me and for this community.

Can you talk a little bit about what renovations or changes you’ve made to the space?

KG We gutted the old Basan restaurant, and it’s [now] a little more than 7,000 square feet of learning space. Kate’s Korner has two infant rooms. The demand for infant care was very evident, as the rooms filled to capacity within only a few weeks of opening for enrollment.

All of the center is amazing, but [particularly a space] called The Root, an after-school innovation lab for children who are in kindergarten through sixth grade that is designed around a STEAM- based curriculum that brings in community [partners].

CloudFactory, which has its corporate headquarters here in Durham, is going to support our STEAM efforts … with expertise and staff volunteer hours. We’re also partnering with Carolina Theatre to [create programming focused on] the arts.

I’m very proud of The Root. … It’s an experience that most of the children we will service in that program would not normally have. We are filling 75% of that classroom with voucher-accepting families.

What incentives do you provide for your child care teachers? KG Kate’s Korner is a lab school … because our focus is to create solutions for industry issues. One of the major issues in early childhood education, outside of affordability and accessibility, is teacher compensation. We’ve decided to take the [typical child care center] model and flip it upside down … starting with compensation. [Kate’s Korner’s pay scale is] a little bit above the market average. Educators start out earning $15-$17 an hour depending on their responsibilities and skill sets. Pay can go up to $18 depending on their education and experience.

Kate’s Korner is, however, doing something that most providers don’t do. I have taken my labor cost and made that a fixed cost.

In the typical child care center model, when some children leave for the day, [remaining] children are combined in different classrooms. Parents will relate to this – every time they pick up their child, their child is in a different room or somebody new is caring for them.

[At other child care centers where I’ve worked], we called this “the shuffle,” and I never appreciated having to do it, but my job as a director was tied directly to making sure that labor cost was lower than projected. What that equaled was that you hired someone for 40 hours a week, but only paid them for 30, because your focus was getting them out of the building before they hit a certain number of hours. This practice is the industry standard. If I hire you for 40 hours, you’ll work for 40 hours to ensure that you’re paid the money that you’ve been offered.

Our lead teachers will be salaried. The lead teacher will work with their team to create curriculum, manage days off and make sure workers show up for one another. [We prioritize] autonomy for child care workers in the classroom. Usually in a child care center, teachers are given a curriculum you must follow. … It leaves little to no room for the autonomy piece. Our center allows teachers to write lesson plans that they’re proud of.

The other [incentive we provide at Kate’s Korner] is unlimited PTO. Early childhood educators have a job that’s stressful. Most people who have one or two children call it stressful! Think about teaching 12 to 15 kids all day long. [Child care workers] need time to take care of their own families and go to doctor’s appointments, too. The industry has shamed them [for] not being there for the children they serve but expects them to be [at work without being] their whole selves. [It’s] caused anxiety and stress because child care workers don’t know if they can pay their bills and aren’t prioritizing their own children. [Kate’s Korner’s] team concept and priority in giving autonomy back to child care workers is essential in mitigating this.

Lastly, our curriculum focuses on social-emotional support of children – but how can you expect an adult who has never had social-emotional support themselves to be able to give that to the children they serve? We have a centering room that allows not only children who are having a hard time acclimating, but also educators to go in, put headsets on, listen to meditation music and [feel] calm.

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