Raising two children as a single parent would be more than enough of a challenge for most people. Mark Ybarra (M.A. ’05, Family and Consumer Sciences) isn’t most people though.
Mark not only single-handedly raised two disabled sons who had previously languished in the foster care system, he did so while also working as a full-time teacher and pursuing his master’s degree. His words of wisdom for anyone else in a similar situation: “Believe in yourself and find balance in life so that you can withstand the many challenges as a single parent and student. Take it one day at a time and keep your eyes on the prize.”
An outstanding interdisciplinary family life education program was a big reason why Mark chose WMU for his postgraduate education. Having the option to attend classes in the evenings and on weekends nearby at a satellite campus in Lansing (now part of Lansing Community College) made a difference, too. “It allowed me the flexibility as a single parent to work, attend classes and meet the needs of my sons,” he said. “My graduate program typically met bi-weekly on Friday evenings and all day on Saturday.”
Mark was a fifth-grade teacher in the Waverly Community Schools district, located in a suburb west of Lansing, from 1989-1998. From there, he became an adjunct professor of Family Life Education at Great Lakes Christian College, as well as nurtured and educated those who are often left behind. For 23 years, Mark taught General Education Development (GED), Adult Basic Education (ABE) and English as a Second Language (ESL) for the Michigan Department of Corrections at Richard A. Handlon Correctional Facility and Bellamy Creek Correctional Facility.
“I was very fortunate to have had excellent classroom teachers growing up in Waverly. Those K-12 teachers, along with my college professors, instilled in me a strong sense of duty and honor,” he said. “Teaching convicted felons in Corrections allowed me to share my love of learning and convey knowledge to the prisoners to prepare them for the GED examination and future success in the world.”
Building on his Bachelor of Science in Education, Mark decided on a major that would complement and enhance his classroom instruction. Because he also wanted to specialize in family law and human sexuality studies, he felt WMU’s Family and Consumer Sciences program was the best choice. Family and Consumer Sciences degrees provide students with a comprehensive body of knowledge to help people make informed decisions about their well-being and relationships. Graduates emerge prepared to work in law, education, social work and other related fields.
Recently retired, Mark said becoming a Certified Family Life Educator (CFLE) through the Family and Consumer Sciences graduate program at WMU was his proudest moment and opened many doors for him. During his time in the program, he greatly valued the opportunity to collaborate with fellow established professionals in an environment that really encouraged and supported him.
Several WMU instructors made a memorable impact, too, including Dr. Linda Dannison (Department Chair and Practicum Supervisor), Cherie Seitz (Human Sexuality Studies) and the late Professor Charles ‘Rusty’ Dannison (Family Law). “He will always be one of my most admired and respected professors,” Mark said. “For the past six years, I have been sharing many of his thoughts and opinions with my undergraduate family law students at Great Lakes Christian College in Lansing.”
The field of education is ever-changing and can feel daunting today, but Mark offers words of hope for current Broncos aspiring to become tomorrow’s teachers.
“I’ve always subscribed to the notion that ‘In the worst of times, the best, brightest and most committed step forward,'" he said. “It’s important to focus on the art of teaching and do the absolute best possible job every day in the classroom. Education is a pendulum that swings back and forth. I feel Michigan’s greatest day still lies ahead.”
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