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Driver's Ed at SEM is a Rite of Passage

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High school is filled with milestones: college acceptances prom and graduation, to name a few. The biggest milestone currently underway for many SEM students is learning to drive. To be licensed is to be independent. Many SEM seniors enjoy the wind in their hair during free periods but how did they get to that point? For many SEM students, the answer is driver’s ed.

Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays through the months of February, March and April, students arrive at school an hour early to attend the in-class requirement. Each year, 25 to 30 students enroll in the class at SEM.  There are 16 mandatory in-car sessions that take place during a student’s free periods. Students are encouraged to come more than those 16 lessons to brush up on certain skills and simply to have more time behind the wheel.

Bill Twargo is the Buffalo Driving School instructor responsible for the in-car sessions at SEM. Bill was a tractor-trailer driver for many years prior to teaching in-car. One day he slipped while getting into his tractor-trailer due to rainy and muddy conditions resulting in what he calls “a jammed spine.” Bill is technically permanently disabled. With encouragement from his girlfriend to “go volunteer somewhere,” he began a search for a new job. He taught tractor-trailer driving for 8 years before transitioning to teaching driver’s ed.

SEM student drivers ready bright and early for the in-class session which takes place in the Physics Lab.

Fast forward four years and Bill loves his job working for the Buffalo Driving school about 15 hours a week at private lessons and schools such as St. Francis Nichols and Mount St. Mary’s. He said he prefers to teach driver’s ed at high schools because he enjoys the moment when a group of people goes from permitted students to licensed drivers.  “I guess the word you could use is rewarding,” he said because he enjoys “the daily improvement that I get to see in a group of students.”

Bill taught both his sons how to drive and is good at communicating with teenagers behind the wheel. “Whenever another instructor is having a hard time with another student I can usually step in and teach that student,”  he said. Among the students, Bill is known for his calm behind the wheel. Bill believes a calm driver’s ed experience will translate into a relaxed and capable driver who has the ability to enjoy driving. Bill avoids using the emergency brake and touching the wheel. Instead, he verbally instructs the students and provides explanations.

Bill waiting patiently for SEM students to drive during free periods

“When my parents tried to teach me it was all nerves and yelling, especially in the car. Bill was so calm and helpful with the in-car and taught me a lot of things when my dad refused to teach me things so fast,” said senior Natalia Vaquero. Her family was so confident that driver’s ed was the reason behind her safe driving skills that her sister Sofia Vaquero ’17 enrolled in driver’s ed this year. Natalia knows she received her license last year thanks to Bill.

Bill is not the only person in charge of teaching SEM students how to drive. A teacher who preferred to remain anonymous teaches the in-class portion to students. The classroom lessons are structured similarly to a regular class: there are lesson packets to fill out and multiple choice quizzes. This part of driver’s ed is very informational, which helps students to know the rules of the road before they break them.

The classroom teacher said, “Parents expect students to know what parents know. How are they supposed to know unless you teach them?”  This is where driver’s ed comes into play.

The classroom teacher said he thinks Bill is fantastic and that they work together well. Of working with the classroom teacher, Bill said, “he’s just a nice guy, easy to get along with, and we have fun.” After years of working together, they have become so close that they feel comfortable pranking each other every so often with the help of the students.

On Friday, March 9 SEM’s driver’s ed students and Bill schemed a car themed prank. While the students were upstairs with the classroom teacher Bill covered his co-worker’s car completely in yellow caution tape. Maddie Love ’19 pictured helping with the prank.

Proud of the prank Bill described people in cars are stopping to look and a woman who pulled up to ask what happened, assuming a crime took place because of the caution tape.  “It’s really cool they let us have fun. It shows how much they get along with students. It’s not just a boring driving class,” said driver’s ed student Athena Mathews ’17.

Some SEM drivers don’t feel that driver’s ed is necessary. “It’s a lot of money for not much one-on-one teaching,” said licensed driver and proud car owner Shelby Kmidowski ’18. She doesn’t regret her decision to learn how to drive from her parents.

“I don’t know how some people pass their drivers test,”  Bill said. “There are certain aspects of driving that parents simply do not know, regardless of how many years they have been behind the wheel.” Bill also stressed the perks to driver’s ed that cannot be overlooked such as a discount on car insurance and a license without restrictions. Natalia confirmed that the freedom to drive past 9 pm and to have multiple passengers in the car was a large selling point for driver’s ed.

Bill loves his work. “Other than it being at 7 am it’s not a class you don’t want to go to. Driver’s ed is not a forced thing to do. Enjoy it. Driver’s ed is enjoyable. Driving is enjoyable.”

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