Dec 092016

Housed in a home-like setting, Mathilde Hall provides a visually rich and stimulating environment for one, two and three year olds in McGehee School’s early childhood program, Little Gate. Designed to inspire learning and spark the imaginations of both students and faculty, Mathilde Hall opened its doors in August in the architecturally rich setting of this historic St. Charles Avenue home. Mathilde Hall is at the heart of Little Gate, a local leader in early childhood education.

L to R: McGehee Headmistress Eileen Powers, Richard Currence, George Young, Mathilde Villere Currence

L to R: McGehee Headmistress Eileen Powers, Richard Currence, George Young, Mathilde Villere Currence

With the October 20th ribbon cutting and dedication of Mathilde Bernard Villere Hall at 2318 St. Charles Avenue, Mathilde Hall becomes the fourth alumnae name to grace St. Charles Avenue between First and Philip Streets on McGehee’s historic Garden District campus. This beautiful renovation compliments the Reggio Emilia philosophy, acknowledging setting and space as important components to teaching. Mathilde Hall houses seven Little Gate classrooms, collaborative playspaces, and an atelier. The grounds include elaborate green spaces as well as a small fruit orchard and vegetable garden. As the first independent school in the New Orleans area to incorporate Reggio Emilia into its curriculum, Little Gate repurposed and renovated Mathilde Hall to meet the needs of one, two and three year olds in a warm and nurturing environment. Headmistress Eileen Powers spoke at the dedication.

For a quarter of a century, Little Gate has been the local leader in early childhood education with a curriculum that focuses on developing the whole child — intellectually, socially and emotionally. Little Gate faculty are experienced professionals who create unique environments where students have every opportunity to investigate, explore, problem solve, communicate, pretend and build. Little Gate’s Tinkerlab and Butterfly Garden, an outdoor classroom, provide additional, important spaces for these young students to explore their creativity and  natural curiosity.

Little Gate Head Betsy Dobson commented, “Research shows that children develop more synapses in the first five years of life than over their entire lifetime. Little Gate provides an environment that gives multi-dimensional experiences rich with endless opportunities that ensure more and more of those synapses are developed, extended and making connections. The architecture, attention to detail, exposure to natural light and shadow as well as the connection to the amazing outdoor landscapes of Mathilde Hall allows nurturing and experienced teachers limitless exposure for creating stimulating and engaging opportunities for growth.”

Thanks to generous leadership gifts from donors, Fran and the late George Villere, Marsha Miller Wedell, an alumna from the Class of 1959, her husband Henri Wedell and a grant from the Edward G. Schlieder Foundation, led by lifetime trustee and alumna Betsy Shaw Nalty ’60, our youngest students (ages 1, 2 and 3) are now learning and thriving in this beautiful building which is immediately adjacent to the school’s recently dedicated outdoor classroom, the Mary Alice Quinn ’54 Butterfly Garden.

L to R: Chris Villere, Mathilde Villere Currence, Fran Villere, Lamar Villere, (seated) the late George Villere

L to R: Chris Villere, Mathilde Villere Currence, Fran Villere, Lamar Villere, the late George Villere (seated)

The Villere family is a four generation McGehee family and “Mathilde Hall” earns its name from George Villere’s sister, Mathilde Bernard Villere Young, a graduate of McGehee’s Class of 1953. Mathilde was the daughter of a McGehee girl and mother of two others, Yvette Young Semmes from the Class of 1977 and Coco Young Bancroft from the Class of 1983. A passionate early childhood educator at McGehee, Mathilde taught at the school for many years and was beloved by her students, peers and fellow faculty members alike. The building also honors Fran and George Villere’s daughter, alumna Mathilde Bernard Villere Currence of the Class of 1989, current parent of Lucy Morrison Currence ’17 and Frances Villere Currence ’20 and beloved niece of her namesake. Mathilde Currence had the honor of cutting the ribbon.

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