St. Benedict’s mobile early learning center features two full classrooms, interactive play areas, individual storage cubbies and bathrooms. Courtesy photos
St. Benedict’s mobile early learning center features two full classrooms, interactive play areas, individual storage cubbies and bathrooms. Courtesy photos
The littlest learners from St. Benedict School, Holmdel, received the biggest gift Oct. 12 when the school officially opened the doors to the Dr. Robert H. Harris Early Learning Center for pre-K3 students.

The mobile early learning center was donated to the school by parishioner, Mary Ellen Harris, in honor of her late husband for whom the building is named, and features two full classrooms, interactive play areas, individual storage cubbies and bathrooms.

Lori Ulrich, marketing director, shared the need to expand the learning area arose when the school experienced an increase in enrollment during the 2020-2021 school year due to COVID-19 related closures of the public schools in the surrounding areas.

When Father Garry Koch, pastor of St. Benedict Parish, and Harris assessed the school needs for the 2021-2022 academic year, additional space for students in the pre-K was a top priority.

“Without the generosity of Mrs. Harris, the preK-3 school would not be possible. She is not only generous with her philanthropy, but also with her overwhelming positive support for our school and its programs,” he said. “This gift to our school is impactful, not just for the present program, but in helping to secure the future of the school. Being able to provide a safe, Christ-centered educational and formational environment to 3-year old students certainly enhances the possibility of the students continuing their education here to kindergarten and beyond.”

Kevin Donahue, principal, was “thrilled’ to be able to open the Early Learning Center and acknowledged the amount of research done to ensure the classrooms were developmentally appropriate for the students. “The classes filled up quickly,” he said.  “The teachers are happy, and the kids are overjoyed.”

Harris, who has supported additional parish programs in the past, values Catholic education and was happy to be able to assist her parish community with the donation.

“It is my pleasure to help St. Benedict School by donating this classroom. I truly believe in a Catholic education, and Father Garry Koch and Mr. Donahue, the principal, are doing an amazing job,” she acknowledged.

While the students started the school year in a temporary classroom, they quickly made themselves at home in the new building.

“We were able to make a smooth transition and we were able to secure new classroom materials so that their move was not just lateral in terms of furniture and learning aids, but came with all new fun things to do. The students really enjoy, and have adapted well, to their new environment,” Father Koch said.

Pre-K3 classroom teacher, Kristen Tennant agreed. “The students really enjoy the different learning centers throughout the classroom – it has plenty of space for the students to engage.”

Her fellow pre-K 3 teacher, Melissa Catalano, added, “The new building is so beneficial to the growth and future of the school community. We are setting the foundation and introducing new families to the core values and nurturing environment that St. Benedict School provides for all their students at every age. It is allowing Pre-K3 families the convenience and comfort to send all their children to one school and continue to build friendships. We are excited for all the learning, playing, and exploring that this new building will bring to our growing St. Benedict families.”