By Ely Schosek
Learning to drive can be both exciting and nerve-wracking. Springville-Griffith Institute High School offers a Driver Education program three times a year to help with this process. This course can also help new drivers to learn proper habits and techniques.
“Parents may adopt bad habits and may be picked up by a new driver, and knowing the right/safe way to drive will help not only you but everyone around you to be safe,” Zach Hughey noted.
Jen Shearer has been the Driver Education instructor for the last four years.
“Safe driving is really important and teaching teenagers to be safe on the road is something I’m really passionate about,” Shearer said. This passion is truly evident in her enthusiasm and devotion to the teaching aspect of the course.
“It’s a program that easily helps students learn how to drive and how to be safe and confident on the road,” said Victoria Ehrig.
Nate Pellette called it a “great opportunity to become a better driver.” He also mentioned that by the time the two-month program begins to feel overwhelming, you realize that it’s almost over. Miya Domes noted that the program is structured to help drivers with any level of experience and skill.
Shearer added that her favorite part of it is starting with students with no experience, even struggling to stay in the lane, and seeing them progress to being able to parallel park and merge onto the expressway.
Not only does Shearer enjoy teaching the material, but she also enjoys learning more about it for herself and telling really anyone who will listen she said with a little laugh.
In regard to the structure of the program, Grace Turner noted the following: “Drivers Ed. is something designed to benefit all the students taking it.” She continued by saying, “Having both the class time and the driving time is definitely beneficial because you’re learning a lot both ways.”
Grace also mentioned that the combination of learning facts and statistics in the classroom along with getting hands-on experience is much more helpful than just having one or the other. “The program provided a great deal of experience and knowledge of driving as a whole,” Adam Moody said. “Laws, tips, safe habits and other useful things,” he added.
The students even had the opportunity to speak with a Sheriff’s Deputy who serves as a School Resource Officer for SGI. Deputy Rick came in to answer any questions they may have had while also sharing some of his most outrageous stories prior to becoming an SRO.
Deputy Rick’s visit helped to inform students of the consequences of bad driving and how strict officers are on enforcing the law which was something Zach had noted about the program. It was a memorable visit for sure.
“The interaction with the teacher as well as the other people we met during Driver Ed. was always fun as well as informing,” Adam said. Shearer mentioned that the best part of it all is the “connections formed with students you wouldn’t normally work with.”
One of the major focuses of the program is distracted driving, seeing as teenagers are statistically much more likely to be involved in a car crash.
“Driving in itself is dangerous but adding extra things that take your focus off of it is not something you should ever do,” Grace noted. Similarly, Shearer said that the most important thing is “to understand the responsibility that comes with sitting behind the wheel,” which includes but is not limited to distractions and seatbelts.
Adam added that the most important thing was learning about “driver etiquette and the laws of the road.”
Throughout the duration of the program, the groups saw many sites and learned of many things that had changed around the area since Shearer was a kid. They saw a one-man submarine in Gowanda, the biggest log cabin that she knows of in the area, an area that used to be an elk farm and much more.
The class of 16 was divided into four groups of four students each for driving sessions. Each group ran on a different schedule but all made at least one stop for food at some point. Some groups went to Mighty Taco, Wendy’s or Charlap’s Ice Cream and all the groups went to Paula’s Doughnuts towards the end.
Both Charlap’s and Paula’s were Shearer’s treat. Paula’s is also more of a challenging drive as it’s in West Seneca — there’s more to handle and think about as compared to just driving around Springville.
In addition to these more challenging drives, sometimes they just stayed in town and worked on skills and did practice road tests. One day when the weather was typical WNY snowy weather, Shearer gave the groups a chance to go a little faster than they should in an empty but slightly slippery parking lot and see the difference in braking.
All in all, Springville’s Driver Education program is a great opportunity for new drivers and Shearer does an excellent job coordinating all of it and teaching students what they need to know.