George Cottage Celebrates a Milestone Year

George Cottage Celebrates a Milestone Year
George Cottage Celebrates a Milestone Year

In the early 2000s, St. Martin’s leadership identified a need in the community for a place where children could begin structured learning at an early age. The initiative was led by then-Head of Lower School Stephanie Pittman, and St. Martin’s early childhood program was launched in fall 2004, with generous support from Dr. Eric George and his wife Kim, with their two daughters Chloe ’11 and Cassidy ’13. The original Cottage opened its doors to children as young as two years old and consisted of 28 students in three classrooms (Duck Class, Teddy Bear Class, and Turtle Class), six teachers, and one playground.

The program was officially named the George Cottage to acknowledge the George family and as a nod to the original campus buildings of the 1950s, which were known as cottages.

Nan Hyatt, an StM parent and early childhood teacher, was tapped to be a consultant on the project. Her participation as an advisor turned into a job opportunity, and Hyatt has served as an integral part of George Cottage since its earliest days. At the conclusion of this school year, she will officially retire.

In addition to Hyatt, three more of the original Cottage teachers are still at StM: Katie Faught ’93, Anita Hamilton, and Shannan LeJeune. Mary Lee Saucier ’91, Coordinator of Innovation + Design and Computer Science for the Lower School, was the first director of George Cottage.

During the 2008-09 school year, an 18-month-old class was added. The program took over two classrooms behind the Dan and Frances White Chapel, and the three-year-olds were moved into this space.

Holly Dalferes, the fourth director of George Cottage, has overseen a rapid growth of the early childhood program since she joined St. Martin’s in fall 2014. As the Cottage has expanded, so has its footprint on campus.

When the Cottage grew to include 12-month-olds and the three-year-old classes moved into their current space in the Lower School, the two-year-old group expanded into the rooms behind the Chapel, yielding two classes at each age level.

In the 2015-16 school year, the infant program began, offering care to students as young as eight weeks old in the converted Learning Annex of the Lower School Library. An additional infant class was proposed for the following year and in the summer of 2016, the main Cottage building expanded, adding two new classrooms and moving the infants to the main Cottage facility."  The vacated classroom in the Lower School was converted to a bridge class for older two-year-olds and younger three-year-olds before the 2017-18 school year.

Today, StM’s early education program caters to students from eight weeks through four years old. The program has nine classrooms, 23 teachers, four outdoor play areas, and more than 100 students.

This month marks two special milestones for George Cottage. On May 31, Ruby Reeves and Cole Russell, of the Class of 2019, will be the first George Cottage students to graduate from St. Martin’s. They were part of the first George Cottage three-year-old class and became the inaugural members of the 15-Year Club. In addition, six members of the Class of 2033 — Emma D., Giuseppe L., Maya R., Crosby S., William T., and John-Michael P. — comprise the first group of children who started as infants and now will “graduate” from George Cottage. These six students will be leaving the Cottage to move on to pre-k in the Lower School for the 2019-20 school year. (The youngest member of the inaugural Buds class, Heath P., will leave the Cottage next year as a member of the Class of 2034.)

From its inception, George Cottage set out to be “more than a daycare.” That tradition is upheld as the program continues to provide immersive Reggio Emilia-inspired learning activities and maintain a strong commitment to ongoing faculty professional development.

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