Rocklin High alumnus joins staff as social studies teacher

By: Alicia French, Special to The Placer Herald
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When Ryan Swarts was introduced at the opening assembly for Rocklin High School as the new social studies teacher, applause hailed from all sides of the gym. Already a familiar face to the students of Rocklin High through his substituting and coaching, Swarts is the first Rocklin graduate to return to the school as a teacher. Now his former teachers are his colleagues and he is starting his career at RHS with a wealth of knowledge to pass on to the students who may, one day, follow his path. “People ask me if it’s weird and I say, ‘not really.’ It’s really comfortable. I don’t think there’s anyone out there who has a first year experience the way I will have, in the sense of the support and people willing to show you how it’s done,” Swarts said. That support comes to him by the droves—and not just from his fellow teachers. Swarts has never distanced himself from Rocklin for too long. Immediately after he graduated, he came back to coach football and after graduating from San Diego State he returned to Rocklin and became a coach for the boys’ basketball junior varsity team and a substitute in the Rocklin Unified School District. Swarts said he has already formed bonds with many of the kids, who will greet him in the halls, offering high fives and inquiring about his well-being. About a dozen of those students, who he affectionately calls his “advocates,” have asked him, “So, are you a real teacher?” With six periods of world history and geography, he can now proudly say that he is. Swarts also said that the best part about teaching at his own high school is the level on which he can connect to the students. “It’s been nine years, but you’ve been to the same middle schools, the same high school,” he said. He said he remembers fondly his times in the classroom of Mark Hardy, where the car-shaped game pieces he would use in classroom competitions are still nicknamed the “Green Machine,” and the “Black Jeep of Death.” Friends that he knew from high school have even contacted him recently, asking, “So you’re teaching? Is Mr. Hardy still there?” Swarts said. Swarts said he has changed in his beliefs and perceptions since high school—in high school he would read the bare minimum, whereas now he reads as much as he possibly can. “My drive to learn has really increased… video games, all that stuff, is really out the window,” he said. Public speaking was also an extremely difficult task for Swarts while he was a student at Rocklin. If you had asked him then, he said he would have said that he would never be able to stand in front of a crowd of people and lecture. One of the realizations he said he’s found since he graduated, however, is that once you find a subject you enjoy and know well, it gives you room to step out of that comfort zone and grow as a teacher. Michael Garrison, who was Swarts’s physical education teacher, basketball coach and football coach, is now the principal of Rocklin High and one of the proudest to see him return — Swarts returning to Rocklin High to teach is, to Garrison, a huge achievement. “I expect him to be a great teacher,” Garrison said. “He has the drive and the passion and connects well with kids.” Since the days that Swarts played under the direction of Garrison, Garrison has noted Swarts’s emotional growth. “His experiences in life have made him more mature,” Garrison said. “You can hear it when he talks.” The phone call that Swarts received on a Wednesday night before school started, inviting him to teach, was a shock and a welcome development — for Swarts, there couldn’t have been a better surprise, he said. “I would want the kids I teach to know that once you find something you’re passionate about, that you enjoy, work doesn’t feel like work,” Swarts said. Lucky for him, he will have the opportunity to pass that knowledge along to his students. Alicia French is a senior at Rocklin High School and a contributing writer for the school’s newspaper, The Flash.