Michelle Lopez’s Colorado roots run deep, and her family histories and culture have helped shape her work as a bilingual teacher.
The lucha (or struggle) toward truth can sometimes feel overwhelming and daunting, but it can light the path toward unity and harmony. Completing this program represents a fight for what is right, and I am proud to lead others in the same direction."
Lopez grew up in Denver, where she spent several of her formative years with her grandparents, who originated from San Luis, the oldest continuously inhabited area of Colorado. Decades earlier, her grandparents moved their six children to Denver seeking a life where their children could flourish. As part of that vision, her grandparents did not teach their children their native language, Spanish, worried it could interfere with their success. Two generations later, Lopez yearned to learn more about her family’s past and speak Spanish as beautifully as her grandparents.
“I eventually learned Spanish, embarked on a journey toward cultural self-discovery, and became a dedicated bilingual teacher for Denver Public Schools,” said Lopez, who has been teaching for more than 10 years.
After researching her family history, Lopez was moved to incorporate her students’ family knowledge and histories into her teaching of 4th grade at Garden Place Elementary. Each year, she leads a family engagement project in which students interview family members and journal about their experiences. Lopez draws on that storytelling to inform her curriculum and instruction for the year.
Project Recuerdo was inspired, in part, by the stimulating community of professors and learners she found in her CU Boulder Master’s in Educational Equity and Cultural Development cohort, who share her passion and “live and breathe for bilingual education.”
“My incredibly talented classmates contributed to a community full of passion and dedication,” she said. “Thus, it became inevitable that I would dream big, as the love for our bilingual community was alive and well.
“Project Recuerdo became a way for all families to contribute to their children’s education and a chance for them to shine.”
Lopez often draws on her experiences to relate to her students, and her graduate studies gave her additional strategies and knowledge she could apply directly to her classroom. Additionally, she found a space to explore her social justice commitments.
“I honed my skills through this program, but more importantly, I found my voice and place as a teacher of social justice,” she said. “I feel more motivated than ever to serve my school community, but I also feel more empowered than I ever have to go forward in fulfilling that duty.”
Lopez leads by example and believes educators can put their whole heart into their work.
However, she did not always possess this impassioned love for education, nor did school represent a welcome space for her when she was young. She faced a number of challenges and was seen as an “at-risk” student, a label rooted in racial injustice and inequities. Now, she sees graduating from the Educational Equity and Cultural Diversity program in the CU Boulder School of Education — not to mention being named the 2021 Outstanding Graduate for the program — as an act of social justice itself.
“Now, I can tell my daughter, my two sons, my students, and the community that I represent that it is, in fact, possible,” she said. “As a single mother, it’s important for me to show my children that self-love and community connections foment endless possibilities."
“The lucha (or struggle) toward truth can sometimes feel overwhelming and daunting, but it can light the path toward unity and harmony. Completing this program represents a fight for what is right, and I am proud to lead others in the same direction.”
Lopez’ familia and comunidad continue to inspire her, and she hopes others will join her in dreaming big.
“I see a remarkable amount of knowledge, skills, wisdom, beauty, and love that has yet to shine in all corners of this country,” she said.
“I take it upon myself to develop awareness of these treasures among each child and adult that cross my path. I have complete and utter faith in them. I stand for all who cannot speak. My belief in our capacity as a united people remains eternal.”