COLUMBIA — Annie Nickens visibly recoiled at the suggestion that maybe her parents could have taught her to drive.
"I would rather drive with a stranger than with my parents," said Nickens, a self-confessed bad driver who would like to get her license in October. "My parents are not good in the car, under pressure, and they start yelling."
Nickens, an incoming junior at Rock Bridge High School, was one of the 36 students who gave up part of their summer to take a four-week driver's education class, offered at Rock Bridge, through the Columbia Public Schools. The class was open to students from all three Columbia public high schools — Rock Bridge, Hickman and Battle. It wrapped up Friday with a parallel parking test and a presentation by the Missouri State Highway Patrol.
Craig Adams, the practical arts coordinator for Columbia Public Schools, said the school system reintroduced driver's education because it's a "service to the community" to produce good drivers.
"We're in the business of educating," Adams said.
Columbia Public Schools has not offered a driver's education in over 20 years, according to Ian Mette, coordinator of summer school programs for Columbia Public Schools. Budget cuts and a lack of instructors ended the program, according to previous Missourian reporting.
The school system has offered a consumer car care class, which incorporated elements of driver's education, Adams said.
All 50 states and the District of Columbia now have Graduated Driver Licensing programs. These programs have been associated with an 11 percent decrease in fatal crash involvement for 16-year-old drivers, according to a report by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
The summer driver's education class compressed a whole semester of coursework into four weeks, said Susie Adams, who taught the in-class portion of the course. After summer school ends, administrators will meet to discuss how effective the class was and whether to offer it again in the summer and possibly during the regular school year.
She said she would also like to see driver's education become a permanent course in the school system. But she said she thought it was easier for both students and teachers to hold the class in the summer when people's schedules are more flexible.
Craig Adams, who happens to be her husband, agreed and said he thought having the class in the summer was easiest and that parents were grateful for it. He said many don't have time to teach their children to drive. Also, for students whose guardians do not have cars, a driver's education class may be the only opportunity for them to learn how to drive.
Susie Adams said the online curriculum that she taught, or in her word "facilitated," was part of a nationally mandated curriculum. She supplemented it with videos and presentations.
The students saw more videos —some of them graphic— on Friday when Sgt. Paul Reinsch, public information officer for Troop F of the Highway Patrol, talked to the students about safe-driving practices. Reinsch's presentation stressed the dangers of distracted driving, including texting and talking on the phone.
"I asked you at the beginning for your help," Reinsch said to the students at the end of the presentation. "Do whatever you can do to help keep people safe while driving."
Thaddeus Hamilton, one of two instructors for the in-car portion of the class, said one of the most difficult parts of teaching the students to drive is dealing with their lack of experience.
"Some kids can drive, but they don't have the hours," Hamilton said. "Kids that have some experience think they can drive. The kids that don't are scared. It's neat to see them get their license, though. To see them be successful."
Vanessa McKinnon, also an incoming junior at Rock Bridge and a friend and classmate of Nickens, said she decided to take the class, rather than learning from her parents, to learn from well-trained instructors.
"They are more trained and experienced," McKinnon said. "And they help you even if you're scared."
Fellow classmate Taylor Posey, another incoming junior at Rock Bridge, said her mother forced her to take the class.
"I didn't even know there was a driver's ed class," Posey said.
Posey, McKinnon and Nickens all said they enjoyed the class and the self-paced, online format. What they did not like was the parallel parking test they had to take Friday morning. Each said it went badly and that they would have to practice much more before getting their license. Nickens said she was praying about it.
In the end, though, Nickens said attending a class in the summer — though not a lot of fun — was worth it because it lowers the cost of insurance.
"You want to learn to be a safe driver," she said.
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