Many college students wait until the last minute before choosing their majors or careers. Not Nicole Kalbfleisch.

"I've always wanted to be a teacher, she said.

She was able to start toward her dream before she entered Saginaw Valley State University where she earned her bachelor's and master's degrees because while still in high school, she helped develop an apprenticeship program for those wanting to be teachers.

Today, Nicole is an Early Childhood Special education teacher. 

She just finished her 11th year with the Early On program in the Saginaw City School District. Before that, she taught kindergarten and elementary grades.

About 60 children are in the Early On program from birth to 3-year-olds. 
Most of the children Nicole sees are via home visits while the rest she sees when they attend the Henry Doerr ECC.

"We work with each child individually," Nicole said. "We also consult and coach the child’s parents. We strive to give them what their child needs so their entire family can make progress together."

The children Nicole serves have a range of disabilities such as gross motor (crawling, walking, rolling over in sitting difficulties), fine motor skills (small muscles), self-help (feeding and dressing), and social, emotional, and cognitive issues. 

There are two tiers of service for children in the Early On program. Children with a 20 percent impairment are seen once or twice a month while those with a 50 percent diagnosis are seen weekly.

Nicole's favorite part of the program is the steady progress she gets to see the children and their families make.

"With working with the families so closely and individually, you get to see all the little steps in their progress," Nicole said. "Many things are understandably hard to measure using a formal assessment, so it’s a joy to observe up close the growth that’s occurring. It warms my heart."