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Colleen Nicholes, District music specialist, Ogden District

Colleen Nicholes always wanted to become the first female biologist to explore Mars.

She started as a science teacher, but ended up a music teacher.

She'd have it no other way.

"To sit there and watch those kids get so excited about playing the recorder or singing songs ... it was such a thrill," Nicholes says of her first teaching job at Kearns Junior High, where she taught at-risk students math, science, reading, history and music. "I was sold after that."

Nicholes now is a music specialist for seven Ogden District elementary schools. She rotates through each class, seeing as many as 100 kids at a time. In all, she has about 3,000 students.

"She's fantastic ... the kids just love her," said Hillcrest Elementary principal Lynae Butler. "The thing I admire most is, she can work with a small group, with an individual helping ... with solos, and then with 100 kids. And she has control and keeps them motivated."

Nicholes oversees an elementary drum and bugle corps, and violin program, and wants to partner with Weber State University's dance program to turn one elementary into an arts school.

She directs gifted student choirs, where first- and second-graders sing two-part harmony. Students play the recorder in three schools. Some students also write operas — they do the lyrics, and Nicholes takes them home to write the music.

"That has been the most fun thing ever," she said. "Teachers get so used to giving and giving, and to use the skills they have to create ... it's just a breath of fresh air. That isn't work to me; that's just fun."