Stepping Stones steps up to next level...and the next

Stepping Stones owner Emily Alberi (lower right) sits with three of her new staff members (left to right): Jessica Brunett, Dani Badgett and Alison Lovaas. The preschool and daycare has tripled the size of its staff, classroom space and services for the coming school year. M.P. Regan photo


In the midst of a growth spurt nearly as impressive as the ones experienced by its preschool clients, Dillon’s Stepping Stones Preschool and Drop-In Daycare has tripled the size of its staff, services and facilities for the coming school year. 

“We saw that there was a big need for more of these type of services in the area,” said Stepping Stones owner Emily Alberi, who starting Sept. 4 will offer drop-in daycare from 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. for ages 2 and up and afterschool care and homework help Monday through Friday, to go along with Stepping Stones’ 8 a.m. to noon weekday preschool classes for ages 3–6.

“And we wanted to build a strong team full of quality people to provide those services.” 

To that end, Alberi has added Dani Badgett, Jessica Brunett, Alison Lovaas, K.C. Keys and Jody Allison to her Stepping Stones staff, which last year consisted of just herself and one employee.

Lovaas, who earned a degree in art and is just a semester away from also gaining a degree in elementary education from the University of Montana Western, will serve as preschool teacher. She previously worked five years as a teacher at Hand-In-Hand Preschool and Early Development Center.

With a degree in elementary education and an associate degree in early childhood education from Montana Western, Keys will teach daycare at Stepping Stones.

Both Health and Human Performance majors at Western, Badgett and Brunett will act as preschool aides, along with Allison.

“A lot of the parents of Stepping Stones children last year had a hard time finding daycare in the afternoons,” said Alberi, who opened Stepping Stones in September 2012 in a second-floor classroom in the Mary Innes building and has rented two additional rooms there for the coming school year.

“Now those parents will be able to get full-time care for their children at Stepping Stones if they need it,” added Alberi, who bolstered her experience with children by working as a nanny for several years.

“I was really nervous about sending my son to preschool and he was really nervous about going,” said Holly Hansen, who enrolled her five-year-old son at Stepping Stones last year.

“He cried all the way there his first day. But Emily is so compassionate and did such a great job helping us through that transition. She gave him the space and support and time to adjust. After a week, he couldn’t wait to get back in there. At night, he’d say, ‘I miss Emily.’ 

“Emily is very loving with the kids, and they love her right back,” added Hansen, a nurse at Barrett Hospital and Healthcare Clinic.

“Working with kids—that’s totally where my heart is,” revealed Alberi, who volunteered as a Sunday School teacher while in junior high in Oregon, in orphanages in Eastern Europe as an adult and for kindergarten classes being taught in the Mary Innes while she earned her elementary education degree from Western.

“I absolutely love preschool-aged kids. They are a lot of fun and it’s amazing how much knowledge they pick up and how quickly they do it. They are little sponges.”

Alberi said providing a steady stream of knowledge for children to soak up is an important part of the Stepping Stones approach to teaching and caring for preschool children.

“We make things as fun as possible, but really try to focus on the educational aspect of preschool,” said Alberi, who directed a before school and afterschool program while studying elementary education at the University of Alaska Anchorage. 

“We integrate a lot of crafts and science experiments. We do a lot of hands-on learning and activities, and try to teach life lessons along the way” said Alberi, who last year had her preschool students dye eggs in cola and then use toothbrushes to scrub off the stains to show them how important it was to brush their teeth every day.

“We go through the alphabet every year by doing a letter each week. We have the children practice writing their letters, saying their letters, identifying the different sounds a letter makes and identifying words that the letters start. We teach them the sign language for each letter. And every letter has a story that goes along with it that we read. At various points in the story, the children say the sound of the letter. 

“It’s a lot of fun to be there when 12-16 kids together make the signs and say the sounds of the letters,” smiled Alberi, whose own preschool daughter attended Stepping Stones last year.

“Every child learns differently. The more senses you pull in, the better chance you have of reaching them all. And we don’t let them say, ‘I can’t’ in the classroom. We teach them to ask for help. If they’re having a hard time with something, we do everything we can to help them get through it.

“We strive to teach children just how much they are capable of doing.”

Alberi’s techniques work wonders, according to Hansen.

“Our son is very well prepared for kindergarten after a year with Emily,” said Hansen, whose son will attend kindergarten this year.

“She spent so much time prepping the children academically, teaching them letters and numbers. 

“Emily is super gifted with children. She is so creative and organized in her approach and creates an environment that is so much fun for them,” added Hansen, who said her son is already starting to read, thanks to his experiences at Stepping Stones.