Martha Urioste and Denver’s Montessori Mafia

By Janine Vanderburg, JVA Consulting

Poster of mural outside of Mitchell Montessori

A recent Wall Street Journal blog declared the existence of a “Montessori Mafia” among the founders of innovative and creative companies, listing the founders of Amazon and Google as examples. According to the article, a recent study found that many innovative entrepreneurs had received a Montessori education. The article also summarized the research that low-income children who participated in Montessori education in Milwaukee were far better prepared for school that their counterparts in other preschools.

In Denver, a Montessori Mafia has existed for some time, and it’s Don is Martha Urioste, the founder of Mitchell (now Denison) Montessori, the Denver Public Schools magnet school that succeeded so well with children of all races/ethnicities and socio-economic backgrounds that it was used in 1995 to demonstrate that Denver was no longer a segregated school system and could be released from court-ordered busing.
I had the privilege of being a Mitchell Montessori parent in the 1990s, and it was an amazing school. Truly integrated, all children achieving in an environment that encouraged and stimulated them to become independent learners, not rote robots. Despite a disdain for test scores, the school routinely produced the highest test scores in the district. It drew parents from all over the city, who endured a lottery process that every year selected 60 children out of 600 applications.

Martha was also the founder of Family Star Montessori, an early childhood and parent education program, a program that the White House once called “the solution for high educational achievement for Latino children.”

Martha’s passion for Montessori education and its use as an instrument for emotional and intellectual development for all children, and as a vehicle for peace, was and remains contagious. Martha never stopped advocating for the notion that Montessori education should be available to all children who desire it.

Today, we can look around the city and see the spread of Montessori education in public schools, available to children of all income levels:

  • Denison Montessori
  • Lincoln Montessori
  • Gilpin Montessori
  • Academia Ana Marie Sandoval
  • Escuela Tlatelolco

Family Star has expanded its reach, and other early childhood programs serving children from low-income households have also adopted the Montessori model.

On May 20, Escuela Tlatelolco will be honoring Dr. Urioste as a Champion of Change at its Flor Y Canto festival. I’m hoping that other members of Denver’s Montessori Mafia, and those who have benefited from Martha’s vision for children, will join me to honor this amazing woman to whom so many children (and now adults) owe a debt for creating environments where their creativity and innovation could flourish.

Click here for more information and to purchase tickets. Hope to see you there!


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1 Response to Martha Urioste and Denver’s Montessori Mafia

  1. Dr. Martha is an absolute gem. It would be difficult to overstate the impact of her efforts helping to make Montessori schools available to diverse children in our community. I appreciate Escuela Tlaltelolco for honoring her in this way!

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