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College hosts session on childhood education degree

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HAMILTON, Mont. - Bitterroot College now offers an associate's degree in early childhood education. It started the program this semester.

It's in partnership with University of Montana Western, which offers more advanced degrees in the course of study, as well as online classes.

On Monday Bitterroot College will host an informational session with Western so people can learn more about the program.

NBC Montana wanted to learn more about early childhood education in the Bitterroot. We discovered a good place to start was next door to Bitterroot College at Ravalli Early Head Start.

We found a playground filled with active, curious toddlers.

The program's education/disabilities manager, Marjorie Vegoren, said Ravalli County has a number of children who could be in the program but aren't.

She said there is high demand for qualified teachers.

"We have a limited number of spots," said Vegoren. "So we do maintain a waiting list of families who want to get into our center."

Early Head Start serves low-income children, some with disabilities and even some families who are homeless.

K.C. York is a case manager who works with pregnant women and infants to three-year-olds in their own homes.

She assesses the child's overall development, including their motor and communication skills and supports parents to be their child's "best first teacher."

"The most rapid brain development is zero to three," said York. "And they say 90 percent of a child's personality is formed by the age of five."

Amber Harbin helps home-based families socialize with their kids. She has a son in Early Head Start and is studying online for a bachelor's degree in early childhood education.

But she wants the classroom atmosphere of the course offered at Bitterroot.

"I definitely would," she said. "It's convenient for work, and I can drop my son off here at the Early Head Start and just go over to class."

Rachel Kittel is a teacher at the center. She has a psychology degree and wants to further her education.

"If I could learn more about child development that would be the goal," she said. "I've fallen in love with teaching these little guys."

The informational session on the early childhood education degree offered through University of Montana Western will be Monday, March 20, at 6 p.m. at Bitterroot College, Room 111.

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