Arthur Ybarra is a proud product of Dallas ISD and a third grade math and science teacher at Winnetka Elementary School, but his path to success has not been easy.
“I sit here all the time and look at this classroom and say, ‘I really shouldn’t be a teacher. I really shouldn’t be in this room,’” Ybarra said. “But my family really pushed me to succeed. Everything I do is for them—every single thing for my wife, my four kids, my house.”
Ybarra, who is Comanche, struggled to make it through school as a teenager. He dropped out twice, once in 10th grade and once in 12th grade, before his mother, Sonia L. Pahcheka, encouraged him to earn his final credit.
When he graduated in December 1998, he told himself that he would never go back to school. For the next decade, he worked a variety of jobs, met his wife and had his first two children. But then the recession of 2008 hit, and Ybarra was laid off. He said he promised himself and his children that he would “never be in a position like that again” and enrolled at Dallas College’s El Centro Campus to earn his associate’s degree in teacher preparation.
He worked and parented his way through school, dropping out once due to financial difficulties, but he made it to the finish line in 2016. From there, he entered Texas Tech’s one-year accelerated Tech Teach program and became a math teacher at Winnetka, where he has been teaching ever since.
“I tell this story to my students every year,” Ybarra said. “When I was younger, I never believed that saying that you can be whatever you want to be, but you really can. I am here to show my students that no matter where you come from or who you are, you can make it.”
He is certainly accomplishing that goal. In his five years as a teacher, he has formed meaningful connections with his students, including a fourth grade student Ybarra first met while he was proctoring a State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR) test.
Before the test, Ybarra was told that the student might not try, and then Ybarra watched the student sit with his head down on a desk, only answering four questions before the test was over. That might have been the end of their interactions, but that same student ended up in Ybarra’s math class in fifth grade.
“We built such a relationship that by the end of the year when he took the STAAR test, he ended up getting ‘meets’ in math,” Ybarra said. “That right there told me I was doing something right by encouraging him to achieve like that, especially because he had never done that before. That story always comes to mind when I think about why I do this and the relationships that I have built.”
In addition to educating his students for success, Ybarra makes it a point to celebrate his Comanche culture each and every day. Growing up, he said he sometimes felt “embarrassed to be singled out as Native American” because there was so little representation, but now he is proud of his heritage, which includes his great-great-great grandfather Quanah Parker—known as the last Comanche chief.
“The history behind my family goes back years and years and years in this exact area,” Ybarra said. “Many people don’t understand our geographical area. For instance, we have Comanche County in Texas because this was the Comanche area. It makes me very proud to know that’s part of my lineage.”
While Ybarra said his personal journey has been difficult at times, he is grateful for all the support he has received along the way from his family, community and previous educators. He is determined to pay it forward by using his experiences and talents to transform student lives and make memorable moments every day.
“I tell my students this all the time: ‘Once you enter my class, you are my student for the rest of your life. If you need somebody to push you, come back to my room, and I will push you to the moon,’” Ybarra said. “A lot of kids growing up in this area don’t have that backing, so I want to let them know that I am here for them if they need me.”