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Opportunity Academy principal has heart for foster care
Posted 7/1/22

swalley familyEarly on when Opportunity Academy principal Tyler Swalley was dating his now-wife Jessica, she expressed she was passionate about being a foster parent and adopting children.


She thinks it was placed on our heart through her parents who were both educators.


“They would always say things like circumstances are not fair for so many, and a person's circumstance determines so much in their life.  I truly believe that! A person’s circumstance changes EVERYTHING, and kids can’t help theirs so why not help them?” Jessica said.


Once the couple married, they began researching foster care organizations. They felt EmberHope Youthville best fit their family.


They then went through the process to become a foster home, which includes a home survey detailing all the things that need updated or changed to keep children safe in the home. Fore example, all windows have to be a certain height off the ground before you have to place a step stool in front of the window so children could get out in case of fire.


They made the home modifications. They attended the parenting classes. They passed the background check. They became certified as a home for children 0-12 years old.


Once approved, the Swalleys got phone calls immediately. Initially, the couple hosted an infant for five days before the child was reunited with their mother.


But a call on a Friday afternoon regarding a weekend stay for a group of three kids changed everything. The kids were 5, 8 and 10 years old, an older group than the Swalleys had mentally prepared for. 


That weekend stay turned into 2.5 years and in November 2020, the Swalleys celebrated the official adoption of their three children with a backyard party.


“I know it sounds cheesy, but we seriously received our most amazing blessing the day we got our kids! They have changed our lives for the better, and we wouldn’t do anything different,” the Swalleys said.


Tyler says the process of adopting wasn’t too bad. The longest part was the reintegration process, almost two years. The adoption process took less than six months and it was slowed by the COVID-19 pandemic.


At the time, Tyler was a computer technology teacher at Newton High School. He was in the process of finishing his administrative license and figuring out where to go next. It was announced that Opportunity Academy was opening up on the EmberHope Youthville campus as a place for children with special situations to learn and grow in a structure different from a traditional school. Many of the children are in foster care there.


“It just made sense to me,” Tyler recalls.


He often takes what he has learned with his own children, such as going to their court dates or observing them on home visits with professionals, to his kids at Opportunity Academy.


“It’s easier to understand. A lot of times their behavior is communicating something they’re struggling with,” Swalley said.


For educators, there are less steps to the foster care process. Educators can often get placements with someone they have a previous relationship with, such as a student they’ve taught. The steps can go in a different order to ensure the child has a safe place to stay.


As for what’s important to know about fostering children, Tyler says lots of grace is necessary.


“They can be difficult, they can be hard. It's a choice to love them and stick by them and continue on working with them even when they’re so difficult.”


With his work at Opportunity Academy, he finds himself peeling back the layers to discover what students are really trying to communicate to him. 


“They’re all very good kids, they all have something to offer,” Swalley said.


This year, Opportunity Academy graduated 28 students. Many graduated early, some joining the military or workforce. Others received their diploma and got moving in a positive direction for their life. 


“You have to give them someone they can rely on and trust. That relationship piece is huge,” Tyler said.