Stepping Stones Learning Institute, federally registered as M & M Learning Institutes, Inc., was formulated in December 1998. For those of you who may not know the M & M stands for “MaryAnn & Mom,“ It was the unconditional support from my mom that provided me with the opportunity to follow my dreams. As a result, Stepping Stones Learning Institute opened its doors to the community on April 9, 1999, at 701 Roebling Avenue, Trenton, NJ.

Stepping Stones started as a preschool/child care facility with 12 students in attendance and three staff members. On July 28, 1999, Stepping Stones signed a contract with the Trenton Board of Education to provide half-day preschool, three hours of free preschool five days a week to families who lived in the city of Trenton, regardless of income, known at the time as the Abbott Preschool Program. To register for the Abbott Program families had to show proof that they were residents of Trenton and the child had to be 3 three years of age on or before September 30th.  Class size could not exceed 15 students and children ranged in age from 3 to 4 years. The Abbott Preschool half-day program began September 1999. In December 1999 the State Department of Education regulations allowed for full-day preschool programming, six hours of free preschool. In the year 2000 a before and after school “Wrap-Around” program component was added to the six hour preschool day, allowing for four additional hours of before/after school childcare available to all Abbott eligible families, funded through The Department of Human Services, Division of Family Development. Families eligible to participate in the Abbott Preschool Program had up to 10 hours of free preschool/child care services available five days a week for a 12 month period.

In 2004 Stepping Stones Learning Institute had the privilege of opening a second location at 118 ½ Swan Street in Trenton with 30 full-time preschool children. Finally, in 2007, after the long-awaited renovation of a facility located at 719 Roebling Avenue, Stepping Stones opened its third location servicing an additional 45 full-time preschool children and families. To date Stepping Stones Learning Institute has three preschool locations with 120 children, eight preschool classrooms in total.

The title of the Department of Education’s preschool program may have changed from Abbott to Preschool Initiative but the scope remains the same, to prepare children who may or may not have opportunities within their own surroundings to become immersed in a learning environment rich with developmentally appropriate learning materials and activities that will build success towards future kindergarten and elementary school experiences. Stepping Stones in collaboration with the Department of Education has the mission of creating safe, age appropriate surroundings that broaden the learning environments of young children through the implementation of Creative Curriculum and Teaching Strategies GOLD Assessment System. Through these two educational resources teachers will provide children with the necessary materials and activities that encourage exploration; thought provoking challenges and cause children to utilize problem-solving capabilities to build competence and foster self-esteem.

In carrying out our mission Stepping Stones Learning Institute employs a staff of approximately 30 employees both full-time and part-time of varying degrees and credentials. Stepping Stones prides itself on the resources we have been able to provide to our community through the talents and expertise of a wonderful group of staff members. Each of our eight preschool classrooms has a licensed/certified Preschool Teacher and Teacher Assistant. Each location has its own certified Family Worker that serves to address the ongoing needs of the child and family as a unit. On a daily basis Stepping Stones’ dedicated professionals commit their time and resources to supporting a program that is truly about the needs of young children. Please take a moment to meet a core group of professionals that makes Stepping Stones the successful preschool program that it is today!



MaryAnn DeFrancesco is the Director/Owner of M & M Learning Institutes, Inc., DBA as Stepping Stones Learning Institute since December 1998. MaryAnn’s credentials include a Bachelor’s Degree in Early Childhood Education, a Master’s Degree in Elementary Education from The College of New Jersey and a Master’s Degree in Counseling Services from Rider University. MaryAnn is in the process of completing her Ed.S. Degree from Rider University. MaryAnn is a certified Teacher and Supervisor. In addition, MaryAnn is certified as an Elementary School Counselor for grades K through 12.


Christopher Gallagher has been a Preschool Teacher at Stepping Stones for the past eight years and enjoys working in Early Childhood. Chris enjoys teaching 3 and 4 year-old children and provides a structured learning environment that supports the overall development of young children.


Tracy Nickerson has been a Preschool Teacher with Stepping Stones since 2004 and has 25 years of Kindergarten and Preschool Teaching experience, as well as a Bachelor's Degree from Lock Haven University.

Beth Viola has been a Preschool Teacher with Stepping Stones Learning Institute since 2001. Beth earned her undergraduate Degree in Psychology from The College of New Rochelle, New York, and a Master’s Degree n Early Childhood from the University of Phoenix.


Edna Gambino was born in Trenton, NJ and has attended over 100 Child Development workshops throughout her career. Edna’s goal is to make better people of the children she cares for by loving and respecting them as individuals.


Robyn Nemchik is a Trenton Central High School graduate. Robyn currently attends Mercer County Community College pursuing a degree in Early Childhood Education. Robyn also studied Health and Childcare at Mercer County Vocational School. Robyn currently works as a substitute Teacher's Assistant at Stepping Stones Learning Institute.


Sabrina Santiago was born and raised on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, New York City. Sabrina has been employed as a Teacher Assistant with the Stepping Stones Learning Institute preschool program and truly enjoys working with the 3 and 4 year old preschool class. Sabrina is currently pursing her Associates Degree in Early Childhood Education.


Paulette Winters has been a Teachers Assistant for over 23 years and has obtained Classroom Communication and Behavior Modification Certifications. Paulette enjoys working as a Teacher Assistant with the 3 and 4 year old preschool class and strives to provide young children with the necessary support to encourage positive learning experiences.


Melissa Erney, Family Worker, has been employed with Stepping Stones Learning Institute since 2002. Melissa has a degree in University Studies with an emphasis on Family Consumer Science and Social Studies. Melissa is currently working on her Master’s Degree in Special Education.


Joanne Spooner has been with Stepping Stones Learning Institute since 2005. Joanne currently serves as the Administrative Bookkeeper for Stepping Stones.


Daniel DeFrancesco is the Facilities Manager at Stepping Stones Learning Institute; with over 28 year’s experience supervising projects from basic maintenance repair to major renovation projects. Dan is a graduate of Eastern Kentucky University with a Bachelor Degree in Sociology and Psychology.