– Cindy Butler Focke
Tyler Swartz has seen the world – and he wants to give his students the same opportunity. The retired Navy photographer and public relations officer is a visual design educator at the Governor’s STEM Academy at Landstown High School. He’s visited more than 64 countries – and shared his love for travel with five students this summer on a trip to New Zealand, Australia, and Fiji.
Senior Avery Yasko said he especially enjoyed ziplining in New Zealand.
“I really gained confidence,” he said. “The trip taught me to appreciate the world a little more; the air, the beauty, rainbows.”
Photo opportunities were plentiful for him and fellow travelers. They snorkeled in Fiji and surfed in Australia, where they were treated to a backstage tour of the Sydney Opera House. Some of the highlights in New Zealand included sheep-shearing and a visit to Hobbiton, where “Lord of the Rings” and “The Hobbit” were filmed. Avery uploaded some of his photos to sell online. Marketing the photos and selling a brand was something learned in class, he said.
Swartz discovered his love for culture and travel while on a mission trip to Mexico in high school. He’s always seeking new ways to get students excited about their world – and said traveling to other parts of the globe can be life-changing. Students explored other countries and met fellow travelers from high schools across the U.S., another part of the learning experience, he added.
Some students never get the opportunity, so to help make the trips affordable, Swartz founded Padawan Travelers, a reference to “Star Wars,” meaning apprentice or learner. The nonprofit organization allows students to collect donations or host fundraisers to help cover costs.
Ryan Johnson was part of Swartz’s 2022 student trip to Italy and Spain – delayed from the previous year due to COVID-19. It was her first time traveling outside the U.S.
“It was eye-opening to see how our country is so much different,” she said. She was surprised at the friendliness of the people, and the cleanliness of the cities. Students toured museums, went to the Vatican, the Colosseum, learned history, and explored cities. Ryan posted her photos for sale on Instagram. Skills learned in class helped her take meaningful photos, and also edit occasionally to enhance the photos, such as removing shadows or people in the background.
Swartz recently earned a Master of Photography degree from Professional Photographers of America, and currently one of his entries is travelling internationally in the organization’s photographic exhibit.
When he’s not travelling, teaching, taking photos, or finishing up a doctorate in K-12 educational leadership, Swartz sponsors the school’s Underwater Robotics team. A small space in his classroom is dedicated to the group, which meets after school to research and build a robot to compete against other schools in the spring.
The group’s CEO, senior Robert Vasquez, said he enjoys being with students with like interests.
“Many of us are looking for a future related to engineering,” he said. Swartz smiled. He is all about supporting experiences that will enhance students’ life in the future.
Swartz’s students in his Graphic Communications, Communication Systems, and Video & Media Technology create posters to market events, learn photography techniques from professionals who visit the classroom, earn professional certifications such as Adobe Photoshop, host podcasts, run video equipment, learn lighting techniques for photography, produce graphics, design T-shirts and coffee mugs, and much more.
His philosophy is that his students’ assignments be “extremely hands-on.”
“They should take the knowledge learned and apply it in the real world,” he said.
He tells them: “I am your boss and I’m treating you like an employee.”
So, what’s next for the educational travel itinerary? At the end of the school year: a trip to England, France, Belgium, Germany and Austria focused on World War II, and to Greece in the summer of 2024.
For more information on the trips, visit www.padawantravelers.org and on Facebook.