My name is Marissa Molina. I’m a volunteer for the Mike Johnston campaign and a former teacher from Glenwood Springs.

Over the next few days, I want to tell you about three first days of school – my first in America, my first in college, and my first as a teacher – and the influence Mike Johnston had on my journey.

Some things you never forget – especially that first day of 4th grade in a new school and a new place.

In January 2003, I arrived in Colorado at 9 years old from Mexico. I became one of only a handful of non-English-speaking students in an English as a Second Language class.  

I remember only knowing a single English phrase, which my uncle had taught me the day before. It was, “I don’t speak English.”

I remember how a classmate tried to talk to me in the lunch line, and how I burst into tears, frustrated that I couldn’t reply.

More than anything, I remember feeling lost and confused.

These memories are a big part of why, after becoming a teacher, I always greeted students at the door on the first day of school. I wanted to help them focus on the feelings of curiosity and wonder that every child should have as they start a brand-new year.

It has been almost 15 years since my first day. In those 15 years as a Coloradan and a DREAMer, I have felt the fear and shame of being an undocumented student and the pride of overcoming the odds to graduate college. And, I’ve experienced what a difference it can make when someone truly believes in you like Mike Johnston did with me through the Urban Leaders Fellowship.  

On this and every first day of school to come, all of Colorado’s children should know that they are not alone, regardless of their legal status or the language they speak.

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Here’s something else you should know: before I ever met Mike Johnston, he was helping me. I can’t wait to tell you that story tomorrow.