We are deeply saddened by the passing of our dear friend, colleague, Godmother of Montessori, and longtime leader and advocate for Bilingual Education in Denver Public Schools (DPS), Dr. Martha Urioste.
Dr. Martha Urioste was the first to establish Montessori education in DPS, and her work became a national model of Montessori education in public schools. Because of her efforts, Dr. Urioste was known as “La Madrina de Montessori.” She was a leader in the Congress of Hispanic Educators and a key plaintiff in the Consent Decree, with the goal of providing equitable language and education services to thousands of multilingual students in DPS and their families.
Urioste began her career in DPS as a first grade teacher at Gilpin Elementary, was a Spanish teacher on DPS Channel 6, taught at the middle school level, became a high school counselor, and the Director of “Holding Power”, an early Dropout Prevention Program. Then, she became an assistant principal and retired as principal of Denison Montessori. After retirement and until the day she died, Dr. Urioste continued to work for students and families as a fierce advocate for bilingual and Montessori education. A phrase she would tell students often was, “No dejen el Español,” “Don’t forget your language.”
Colorado Women Hall of Fame awardee in 2000, Dr. Martha Urioste was a pillar in our community, a courageous leader and a guiding light in our bright future in Denver. Dr. Urioste was a fierce advocate for students and families in our Brown and Black communities. She worked tirelessly to ensure safe spaces for students, actively engaged parents and families in schools, advocated for funding for Montessori education, and ensured that all students receive equal opportunities to learn in DPS. Many people from the community remember when Dr. Urioste worked tirelessly with the parents, teachers and community members in Five Points to convert a drug house across the street from Mitchell Montessori to one of the first early childhood centers in the school district.
Martha Urioste was a role model to many and is a deeply respected mother-figure who loved teachers in the classroom; the boxer who fought for us in the boardroom; and, the advocate who defended us in the courtroom. Dr. Urioste was a luchadora and a trailblazer. Her impact is unprecedented and irreplaceable in her passing. News of her passing has stirred overwhelming feelings of pride in her advocacy, and a deep, profound loss.
As a visionary, Dr. Urioste brought Montessori education to DPS’ Mitchell Elementary School. She then helped expand Montessori education throughout the district and continued to advocate for funding and support for Montessori education until her death. Her creation and presidency of Family Star Montessori education in the DPS and in the Denver community, and early education mapping, created a pathway to success for children to achieve academic greatness. Martha Urioste weaved the net that saved thousands of children from falling through the cracks in our school system, and propelled all children in DPS. Her life touched everyone she encountered, and her passing is a true loss for all Colorodoans who have gained so much from her tireless efforts.
In Martha’s own words, she shared “having been a Denver Public School educator with many assignments and experiences for 45 years, my greatest joy and happiness was to know that I had the honor and privilege to be with Montessorians, parents, and children as well as the entire community launching Education and Peace as Dr. Maria Montessori’s most important vision and mission in the world.”
Dr. Urioste’s vision, dedication and efforts allow future and present students to thrive and succeed in their education. We are forever indebted to Dr. Urioste because she swept up every fragment of bigotry and limitation to Spanish-language education that she had encountered with a grace that only Dr. Martha could model and demonstrate.
Though her departure has given us much to mourn, DPS and the Board of Education are committed to carrying on her legacy through our continued push towards a more inclusive and representative school district that supports students of every color, of every language, of every culture and heritage – the way Mama Urioste so diligently taught us.
All of these words fall tragically short of fully expressing both the impact Dr. Urioste had on our DPS and Denver community and our sadness about her passing. She will be forever remembered, loved and respected as the guardian of our students and their families.