A scientist and her students

Veteran Notre Dame teacher cites the school's caring environment as critical to turning out exceptional students. 

Longtime Notre Dame teacher and current science department co-chair Jocelynn Yaroch said that when she started her job at ND Prep nearly two decades ago, she encountered a high school environment she didn't quite recognize.  

"I was really stunned by how much the students and staff cared for each other," said Yaroch, who also at the time was an adjunct professor at Wayne State University and Macomb Community College. "It was very different from my own high school experience, where there was very little personal interaction between teachers and students. To be honest, it was a little off-putting at first because it was so unfamiliar. However, it's come to be my favorite thing about the school."

Way too social

Her journey to becoming a teacher was a bit unconventional as well.

"Actually, truth be told, I never intended to be a teacher," she said. "After my B.S in biology from U-D Mercy, I was admitted as a Thomas C. Rumble University Graduate Fellow at Wayne State University, which basically meant I could bypass a master's degree and receive a Ph.D in biology by the end of the fellowship. I thought I wanted to do research and I was on the fast-track to doing just that."

However, that fast track slowed considerably as Yaroch determined that life in a lab was not for her. She said she was "way too social" for a lab position and quickly converted her research fellowship into a teaching assistantship. 

"I was much happier in that role and decided to complete my master’s and forego the Ph.D," she said. "With my master's degree, I was able to gain employment as an adjunct professor with Wayne State and Macomb. While there, I taught microbiology, anatomy, physiology, nutrition and biology."

Yaroch said the science position at ND Prep originally became available due to a teacher leaving mid-way through the 2001-2002 school year.

"I worked with that teacher at Macomb and she recommended me to fill her job at NDP," she recalled. "They really needed someone with college-level teaching experience to jump right in and cover AP biology and AP environmental science courses, especially since AP exams were looming." 

Not many teachers typically are looking for work in March and, luckily for both Yaroch and ND Prep, she wasn’t a typical teacher. 

"I taught at the college in the evening, so I was able to finish out the semester for her," she said. "I think Father Leon [Olszamowski, s.m.] saw the value in hiring a scientist to teach science [she was not a certified teacher yet at that point] and I was fortunate enough to be asked to stay. Notre Dame Prep has been my home now for 17 years."

Inspiring students

During those 17 years, Yaroch has taught many students and many of those students cite Yaroch as a major influence as they transitioned through college and life. One such NDP alum is Kaitlin (Dye) Dickinson, from the Class of 2005, who holds a Ph.D in genetics from the University of Wisconsin and currently works as a medical science liaison in the healthcare industry.

"Mrs. Yaroch was an incredible AP biology teacher," Dickinson said. "She always pushed me to my intellectual limits and in doing so instilled me with a great deal of confidence in my own abilities as a budding scientist and helped me to realize my passion for science very early on. That confidence was critical to my success in graduate school and beyond.”

Another alum also has high praise for his former high school science teacher.

"All the teachers at NDP were awesome, but my favorite teacher has to be Mrs. Yaroch, my IB biology teacher," said Eric Leen NDP'13, who became an aerospace engineering officer with the Royal Australian Air Force shortly after college. "She was funny, smart, trustworthy and overall a great role model, not just as a teacher, but as a person. Even though IB biology was a hard class, it was a class that I always looked forward to."

It's that rapport with students that's also important to Yaroch. Very important. 

"The relationships I build with my students is the most important part of my job, bar none – everything else is secondary to that," said Yaroch who says she thinks students want to learn not because she's a good teacher, but because they know she genuinely cares about them. "I’ve tried to create an environment in my classrooms where students are welcome, where they feel comfortable, and where they are allowed to have a bad day yet know that everything will be okay. I believe that because of this type of environment, they will learn the importance of resilience, patience, love and integrity, which, when you think of it, are the basic hallmarks of the NDPMA mission."

Significant changes

Yaroch also noted that a lot has changed since she first started teaching at Notre Dame Prep. 

"I’ve seen two principals, four vice principals, and five board chairpersons," she said. "The building has expanded, our student population has expanded, the lower division was added, the IB program was implemented. So it’s kind of difficult to pick the 'most' significant changes since I got here."

Really, they're all significant, she said.

Significant also is the fact that Yaroch, who lives in Clay Township with her husband, Tony, and their two daughters, Natalie (15) and Megan (12), has a job that totally matches her passion and expertise. However, for instance, if she wasn't a teacher, what might she be doing with her professional life?

"Two jobs, actually," she said. "Travel blogger and real-estate mogul." 

It's a pretty good guess that Notre Dame and the hundreds of students she's taught over the years are happy she didn't follow those career paths — or any other.

Comments or questions? mkelly@ndpma.org.

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About Notre Dame Preparatory School and Marist Academy
Notre Dame Preparatory School and Marist Academy is a private, Catholic, independent, coeducational day school located in Oakland County. The school's upper division enrolls students in grades nine through twelve and has been named one of the nation's best 50 Catholic high schools (Acton Institute) four times since 2005. Notre Dame's middle and lower divisions enroll students in jr. kindergarten through grade eight. All three divisions are International Baccalaureate "World Schools." NDPMA is conducted by the Marist Fathers and Brothers and is accredited by the Independent Schools Association of the Central States and the North Central Association Commission on Accreditation and School Improvement. For more on Notre Dame Preparatory School and Marist Academy, visit the school's home page at www.ndpma.org