Cottage in the Woods open for early ed.

(Photo provided) Parish volunteer Stella Heuer reads to pre-K students on the front porch of St. Gregory the Great School’s new Cottage in the Woods Early Childhood Center.

(Photo provided) Parish volunteer Stella Heuer reads to pre-K students on the front porch of St. Gregory the Great School’s new Cottage in the Woods Early Childhood Center.Sitting front and center on the desk in Sister Canice Adams’ office at St. Gregory the Great School is this quote from Walt Disney: “If you dream it, you can do it.”

The newest addition to the school — the pre-K and kindergarten “Cottage in the Woods” Early Childhood Center — is just one of the sister’s dreams come true. The new cottage opened its doors in August, providing classroom space for 60 pre-K and kindergarten students, and freeing up space in the main school building for first- through eighth-graders.

When St. Gregory the Great School opened for the 2007-2008 school year, it became the third Catholic elementary school in Beaufort County.

The Diocese of Charleston has plans to build a high school in the area too, with a possible location in Jasper County along S.C. 170.

“However, as our students began approaching grades seven and eight and the high school had yet to be built, we realized we needed to add those grades to the existing campus,” said Sister Canice, principal.

Not wanting to give up her music and art rooms, she had to figure out how to house all the grades.

“To have 4- and 5-year-olds in their own building is a better learning experience for them,” she said. “We actually started St. Gregory’s that way with a pre-K and kindergarten class of 15 each in St. Andrew’s parish hall while the school was being built.”

She then met with Father Ronald Cellini and the church building committee and presented her idea of how to house all the grades. She explained some of her ideas of wrap-around porches with rocking chairs, a kitchen scaled down for 4- and 5-year-olds and bike paths for tricycles.

Pre-K teacher Beth Kelley and kindergarten teacher Amanda Pope soon jumped on board and they, along with Sister Canice, added to the ever-growing wish list of what they wanted the cottage to be.

“We added ceiling fans to the porches and gates we could close off so parents and parish volunteers could interact with the kids on the front porch, high ceilings in the classrooms that would allow for open space so children could explore creative motor development, a space for an outdoor discovery table, and open access to the wonders of nature which would allow our science program to be very hands-on as we stepped outdoors,” Kelley said.

Architect and parishioner Dan Odgen agreed to design the building while school parent Paul McBride signed on as the general contractor. Retired engineer Ross Kukendyall served as the head of the church building committee.

“As is the case with all of Sister Canice’s dreams, it definitely was a challenge to accomplish what she wanted,” McBride said. “We had to design and build her dream and also have it function as a school. We also had an aggressive timeline of approximately three months from ground-breaking to completion and a limited budget. I learned early on in the process from her that there are no such things as problems — only challenges — and if by chance I had a challenge, I’d better have a solution before I went to her.”

Two months after the Cottage opened its doors, the school’s littlest students continue to have hands-on learning experiences, Pope said.

“A big hit has been baking in the kitchen,” she said. “Reading a recipe, measuring, tasting and using all of our senses are something that really brings a lesson home.”

The children baked a cake for the bishop when he came for a visit and blessed the new school.

“It’s a great transition from home to school that is not traumatic for the young ones because it feels so much like home,” McBride said.

The classrooms are equipped with Smart Boards and teachers use microphone headsets so they don’t have to raise their voices to be heard, she said.

Reprinted with permission.