Original URL:  http://www.azcentral.com/news/articles/0922edpeck22.html

From shy kid to honors class

Arizona Republic Sept. 22, 2003 12:00 AM

E dgar Rangel is just like any other high school honor student. Attending Peoria High School this fall, he's looking forward to his accelerated classes. It's a long way from the shy 4-year-old who, speaking no English, entered A Stepping Stone classroom in 1993. Edgar's teacher, Janice Milks, remembers him hiding behind the sofa when she visited the family.

Thirteen years ago, a handful of people with large hearts and small purses began a journey to create preschool experiences for every child in Arizona. What they created is now A Stepping Stone Foundation, which has improved the lives of more than 800 families.

Stepping Stone was founded in 1989 by the Rev. Bill Smith and members of the Moon Valley community in north Phoenix. The program provides superb early-childhood programs for children and their families who need literacy services. Currently serving 120 families, it has "graduated" 720 since its inception.

From the start, the group has held a strong belief that early education is crucial for all children. Seeing the woeful number of children not being served, this group decided to make a difference.

The members chose to start in the Isaac School District and have since expanded to the Alhambra and Murphy districts. Stepping Stone is an example of a successful marriage between the school that provides space, meals and transportation and the non-profit group that provides teachers, materials and equipment.

While their children attend a preschool program, parents are required to help in the classroom and attend GED, parenting, or English classes. Parents gain life-changing skills while learning how to provide a positive learning environment at home.

As if that were not enough, just in time for the first preschool class to graduate from high school, Stepping Stone has expanded its reach by providing college scholarships to Stepping Stone alums.

If you would like to support A Stepping Stone Foundation, call (602) 843-8281 or visit www.asteppingstone.org.

Carol Peck is president and chief executive officer of the Rodel Charitable Foundation of Arizona. She is former superintendent of the Alhambra Elementary School District. E-mail questions and ideas for future coverage of outstanding programs to her at rodel@rodelfoundations.org.