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TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Stacy Mix, the founder and director of the Little Warriors preschool at Aloha High School, hugs Anthony Espindola,4, before he leaves school.


When teacher Stacy Mix opened the Little Warriors preschool program at Aloha High School, she had next to nothing.

“We started this school with six children and a handful of Barbie dolls and some books,” she said.

Today its two rooms are filled with the chatter of busy 3- to 5-year-olds and the high-school students in Mix’s child development classes who work one-on-one as the little ones play games, do crafts and learn their letter sounds. The waiting list is so long that parents joke that the only way to get in is to sign up as soon as the pregnancy test is positive. It’s only slightly easier to get into Mix’s classes as a high-school student.TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZTIMES  - Dallas Roark, a senior at Aloha High School, reads to Devin Card,4, at the Little Warriors preschool.

On this day, there is something new in the classroom: Slightly curled photographs, chronicling Little Warriors’ 15-year history, are edged with ash and spread across a small table. They are the sole survivors of a fire that destroyed a shed that stored much of the preschool’s outdoor sports equipment, games and other supplies. The loss has limited the school’s activities and lesson plans since everyone returned from spring break.

Last week, long after the smoke dissipated from the March 22 blaze, a few of Mix’s high-school students found the photos, which somehow had survived pressed into albums in what remained of a plastic storage tub.

“It was just a blessing when those kids kicked around with their feet and found those,” she said.

The photos are even more important to Mix now, her final year as director before she planned to quietly hand off the Little Warriors program to a new leader to take on a more traditional classroom teaching position.TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Shannon Tiffany holds pictures of herself when she attended school at the Little Warriors preschool. Tiffany is now a junior at Aloha High School and works with the preschoolers. I used to be like them and played with the same toys, she said.

Mix, a former bodybuilding champion, did much of the heavy lifting after first suggesting the preschool program. At the time, she was a relatively new teacher who had been assigned to teach foods classes at Aloha.

“I could barely make Ramen noodles,” she said. “That’s no joke.”

To make Little Warriors happen, Mix helped lay the carpet, install the sinks and build the bathroom in the program’s enclave at the west end of the Aloha campus.

At the time, Sunset High School had blazed the trail with its Little Apollos preschool, which has since closed after its director retired. Today, the Little Warriors are a model for others. Westview High School has a new program.

“These programs should be in every high school,” she said.

But for Mix, 41, it’s time for a transition. She already has beaten cancer but still battles celiac disease and is putting off until summer break a much-needed knee surgery.

“I’ve just gone 100 miles per hour for 15 years. I’m tired,” she said. “I can’t do it anymore. I go home and drop. Trust me.”

Her plans for a quiet handoff also went up in smoke as the fire put the Little Warriors in the spotlight, and everyone from former students to complete strangers has been offering to help them recover as they wait to learn what insurance might replace.

As if on cue, former student Esteban Olea dropped by at the end of a preschool session last week with several sacks full of new bubble wands and children’s games including Let’s Go Fishin’ and Connect 4 to donate.

“I was here for three years continuously,” said Olea, a freshman at Pacific University with the goal of being a pediatrician. “I love the program.”

Mix has that effect on a lot of people, her students said.

“I actually came into this class wanting to be a divorce attorney, and now I want to be a principal,” current senior Sapphire Dorfman said. “Everyone who comes into this class loves Stacy. I’m really grateful to her. She’s my role model, definitely.”

Cassie Boyd and her husband, Adam, were both in Mix’s class when they were at Aloha High.

When it came time for their own daughters to attend preschool, the choice was a “no-brainer,” Cassie Boyd said.

“This is the only place I would feel comfortable leaving her at this age,” she said while picking up 4-year-old Alexis.

Mix’s youngest charges, who learn math and science and reading while having fun with their big buddies, seem to enjoy their time just as much.

“I get to wear costumes, dress up and have play time,” said Zoe Talley, 5.

Mix’s feelings about leaving were magnified by the fire, which she first met with sadness, then anger and now appreciation as the community steps up to help.

Mostly, Mix is focused on all the work she needs to accomplish before she can leave.

“I made sure that if I were to leave, this will continue,” she said.

“I feel like she’s left it at a really great mark,” senior Michelle Galaxy said.

Officially, the cause of the fire remains undetermined. It’s still an open case for Tualatin Valley Fire & Rescue and Washington County Sheriff’s investigators.

Unofficially, talk has filtered around Aloha High School that some young suspects have bragged about starting the fire and watching as playground balls popped due to the heat. Mix wants their eventual punishment to include a forced march straight to her classroom.

“I want them to look at these little kids’ faces,” she said, “and let them see what they did.”

Want to help?

Aloha High School child development teacher Stacy Mix has posted a list of items she hopes to replace on the Little Warriors preschool’s web page.


By Eric Apalategui
Beaverton Reporter
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