Family Star and Martha Urioste
It was a warm and sunny Autumn morning in Denver, CO when Yeon Hee and I visited the Family Star Bilingual Childcare Center, the renovated Safeway Bakery building on 22nd and Federal Blvd. It was two days before their 25th anniversary: Wednesday, October 26th, 2016.
Upon entering the foyer, young mothers were carrying their little ones in arms and signing in. A little child with curly dark hair was peering into a dark fishbowl where a beta fish was swimming. Her tiny earrings glinted in her earlobes. I joined her, and together we looked into the fishbowl. She smiled and asked my name. Her mother came over to us and said softly, "she talks to everyone and invites people she meets to come over for dinner."
We smiled and then she and her daughter walked down the hallway to her room. Then, Monica Roers, the Executive Director, came to meet us. She was wearing a bright red jacket and we shook hands and introduced ourselves. She led us into a meeting room where we could leave our things as we toured the facility.
Monica led us to the NIDO (an Italian and Spanish word for nest) where we felt the quiet calm of the environment as we observed infants and caretakers. Afterward, we followed her to a toddler room where a group of young children sat at low tables, eating their breakfast, cleaning up their tables, and replacing dishes in bins to be washed. They glanced at us as they were going about their daily routine.
There were several children who had already eaten and had chosen their first individual work of the day. All the children were confident in their movement. Two Montessori guides were seated on low child-sized chairs and the atmosphere was very peaceful.
After visiting several other rooms in the building, it was evident that the entire atmosphere was full of activity, and yet, remained calm and tranquil.
This atmosphere extended even to the outdoor play area designed with a grassy space,and a concrete circular maze where we watched a little girl riding her trike, occasionally stopping to rest and speak with those nearby. Several children were running and skipping across the maze to join those digging in a sandy corner.. Two adults stood in the play area watching the children, ready to assist if needed.
Upon our return from the tour, we met with the founder, Dr. Martha Urioste. Her dark expressive eyes focused intently on us as we engaged in conversation.
We began by asking her to tell us about the history of her non-profit and she smiled and asked us to tell her about our background and vision. She asked Monica for a paper and pen and began to write, and after a while, we found that we shared parallels in our passion for social justice and respect for children. She pointed out that my emphasis centers on cosmic education (because of the work we did to involve inner city children and families with nature and outdoor education). It is something the MMLCC continues to emphasize in our workshops on health and nutrition.
It seems we both "converted" from public schools to Montessori in the 1980s. We both began our teaching careers in public schools. As we both became dedicated to the Montessori developmental approach for education,we found ourselves in the business of restoring abandoned neighborhood buildings and transforming them in order to begin our mission to reach out to young children and families.
As it turns out, Martha and I've unknowingly crossed paths before. A conference in 1988 was a turning point. Both Martha and I attended a NAMTA Alternative Education conference organized by David Kahn entitled: Montessori Public Education Designs For Differences in Kansas City, Missouri. That's when I first met Judy Orion. In her work, Martha came to know her well.
We hold Montessori mentors that we admire in common. I am personally grateful and appreciative for the warmth and kindness extended to us by Dr. Urioste and her staff and partners who have all shown remarkable grit in advocating for infants, toddlers, early learners, teens and parents.
Back to our meeting, we inquired how Family Star won Early Head Start funding tied to Montessori.
Dolly Hull, Head start Director on the campus, gave us this site as a resource: https://eclkc.ohs.acf.hhs.gov/hslc
This website is for the Early Childhood Learning and Knowledge Center where there is information about grants and regulations for Head Start funding. The rest of the story is in Martha's book: THE FAMILY STAR STORY by Dr. Martha Urioste. We brought back a signed copy. Proceeds from purchase go into the Dr. Urioste scholarship fund. Learn more at www.familystar.net.
Video produced by the Denver Office of Storytelling