In 1972, Lincoln native Mary Ann Shallcross Smith was a new mother to her first child, Keith. She made a decision that allowed her to stay home with her baby and eventually helped change the face of child care in Rhode Island. Mary Ann opened a home child care service. She enrolled in courses in early childhood and education to better serve children and families, and in 1995 earned her doctorate degree in Education (Ed.D.), Leadership and Human Development Studies from Nova Southeastern University.
Today, most know Dr. Mary Ann Shallcross Smith, Ed.D, as “Dr. Day Care.” They might not know that Mary Ann was a pioneer in after-school childcare in the state. She and a colleague opened their first school-based after school program in Lincoln in 1987. Since then, not-for-profit Kids Klub expanded into more school districts, and Mary Ann opened Dr. Day Care Learning Center that could accept infants and toddlers. She also manages the Therapeutic Child Care Services (TCCS) program that provides the foundation for children to learn, socialize, and play alongside their typically developing peers.
Mary Ann’s impact is not limited to just the families she serves. Mary Ann also founded the group Rhode Island Business Owners of Child Care Association (BOCA) to advocate for child care and education with child care owners across the state. This group works with state regulatory agencies to help shape the future of the child care business in Rhode Island. An author of children’s books and a lifelong learner about the latest trends in building healthy children and families, Mary Ann Shallcross Smith truly makes a difference.
It all started with a desire to help families meet their need for safe, nurturing child care.
“Kids Klub got started in 1987,” Mary Ann recalled recently. “Two parents working outside the home was getting very popular for economic reasons. They needed child care.” As a home care giver herself, Mary Ann knew firsthand that parents endured long waiting lists for the few home caregivers like herself.
“Lincoln put out an RFP (Request for Proposals) for after school programs,” Mary Ann said. “You had to be non-profit. I didn’t even know what a 501(c)3 program was,” she laughed. “It wasn’t like you could Google it. You had to open up a book and read about it. A good friend of mine, a colleague who ran a nursery school up the street in Lincoln, we met for coffee and we put the 501(c)3 together.”
Coincidentally, her business decision in 1987 also helped with her own child-care challenges at the time.
“Believe it or not, my daughter was the perfect age,” Mary Ann said. Her daughter, Amy, was in fourth grade in 1987. “She was the age where I was doing home based daycare and she couldn’t even come into the numbers for home based care. I had to put my own kid aside.”
Once Mary Ann finished the RFP she had to present it to the School Department. “I picked Lincoln. I was born and raised there. I had my kids there. And luckily enough we were chosen to be the provider of after school care. I ran the program for a very long time.” The advent of after school programs meant that children like Amy and her friends had a safe, entertaining and educational place to be between the time school ended and the time parents returned home from work.
“Today I’ve grown to nine Dr. Day Cares and seven Kids Klubs, the non-profits,” Mary Ann said. She has developed a highly-qualified staff of directors and caregivers.
Dr. Day Care Learning Centers provide care for children ages 6 weeks through 12 years old, with unique programs for Infant, Toddler, Preschool, and School Age children. Dr. Day Care offers quality care and education 52 weeks of the year at locations in Cumberland, Foster, North Providence, Pawtucket on Concord St., Pawtucket on Thornley St., Providence, Smithfield, South County, and West Warwick.
Kids Klub provides quality care and education for children in kindergarten through 12 years old. Kids Klub operates before and after school programs and full time programs during school vacations, summer break, and when school is not in session. They offer field tripsand enrichment programs. Kids Klub now operates in schools in the North Providence School Department, North Smithfield School Department, and Woonsocket Education Department.
Kids Klub and Dr. Day Care Learning Centers have come a long way since Mary Ann first opened her home day care so she could stay home with her own baby.
“It was two women entrepreneurs doing daycare in their homes who knocked on the door and said, ‘We have a growing population, we really need it,’” she recalled. Seeing the array of before and after school programs that help today’s working families, it is hard to comprehend how rare that was just a few decades ago. “When I started there weren’t many,” Mary Ann reflected. “Today, 30 years later, almost every school department has a before and after school program.”