It’s a start I’ll never forget,” states Marya Sopova (Mary Shellard-Sopow) when asked about the housing and living assistance once provided by UBC. For Marya, the opportunity to complete her education marked the beginning of a transformative journey as a special education teacher. This extraordinary educator has now paid it forward by establishing a new bursary for single parents in the Faculty of Education.
Marya was a stay at home mom when she divorced in the 1970s. “I was given $350 per month in alimony to cover rent, food, and clothing for three children, and I didn’t know what to do,” she explains. “I had one year of psychiatric nursing and about two years of college—but no formal training for employment.
Although Marya wanted to return to university and complete her education, the prospect looked bleak. At a friend’s suggestion, she presented her story to the Dean of Women. “I was given a two bedroom townhouse at Oyama Court right on campus,” says Marya. “I couldn’t get over the fact I had a place to live and could continue with my education.”
Two years later, with degree in hand, Marya was hired by the Langley School District to teach one of the first special education classes in BC. She had a natural talent for unlocking the energy, imagination, and curiosity children possess. Since many students had learning challenges, Marya often had to find innovative ways for delivering lessons—but she got results.
Five years later, she applied to the Ministry of Education’s Go North plan and was seconded to teach in Lower Post and Good Hope Lake.
These new surroundings presented fresh challenges as many children possessed wonderful skills that were relevant to their culture—but literacy levels were far below the national average. By entrenching herself in native culture and making the lessons relevant to the lives of her pupils, Marya worked with her students’ interests and strengths in an attempt to improve their reading challenges. After one year she was offered the post of principal in Good Hope Lake.
Marya eventually returned to Langley. She completed her master’s degree in Education and worked for the Langley School District until retirement. Along the way she touched numerous lives, enabling students to improve themselves through the gift of reading.
Today, Marya remains a powerful advocate for literacy and education. She recently published The MouseTronaut, a children’s story, and the Rocket of Fun workbook that aim to enhance reading skills by fostering an interest in space. Her ongoing efforts are a powerful reminder that a great teacher is always becoming whatever students and society need.
“Graduating from UBC has given me a life I never imagined,” emphasizes Marya. “I wouldn’t have been able to do any of the things I’ve accomplished if UBC hadn’t helped me. And that’s the reason for creating this bursary—I wanted to give back what was given to me.”
Marya is proud her gift will help foster a new generation of inspirational educators. “But my other desire is to inspire others to donate funds or establish bursaries for students in need, so they may also realize the joy of becoming productive citizens.”