Bottom Line: Yankee Driving School Goes Virtual and Road Tests Its Own Students | Business | Seven days


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  • Jon olender
  • Gabriella Netsch

It should come as no surprise then that Gabriella Netsch, driving trainer and owner of Yankee Driving School in Wallingford, describes herself as a strict follower of the rules. Whenever her local school districts declare a snow day, she does too. So when Governor Phil Scott ordered all schools in Vermont to stop teaching in person by March 18, Netsch did the same for the Yankee Driving School.

For some driver education instructors, switching from classroom lessons to online lessons wasn’t a big deal. But Netsch admitted that at 69, “Switching to a computer was a learning curve for me, a big time.”

But learning to negotiate curves is part of a driver’s education, so Netsch rolled with it. Demand for its courses remained high. After the Vermont Department of Motor Vehicles canceled all written exams and road tests, Netsch personally called all 50 families enrolled in Yankee Driving School for the spring and offered them a full refund.

“How many do you think took it?” ” she asked. “Zero. They want their kids to drive, and we’re their best asset.”

Netsch first moved from New Hampshire to Vermont in the 1980s for a job as an elementary school principal in Killington. She obtained a driving instructor’s license as a back-up plan for her retirement. But after divorcing in her 50s and losing her passion for being a public school administrator, she changed course in January 2009 and opened Yankee Driving School.

Netsch had never taught teenagers before. “It didn’t take long for me to say, ‘Wow! These are people that I love to be with,'” she said. “High school kids are awesome. They keep you young.”

The Yankee Driving School has rapidly grown from around 20 students per year in 2009 to over 300 today. Netsch now employs two other instructors, with whom she offers courses in Bennington, Windham, Windsor, Rutland and Orange counties. Although most of their students are teenagers, Yankee also receives adult students referred by the Vermont Division of Vocational Rehabilitation, Vermont Adult Learning, and other social service organizations.

“When a child hasn’t passed driving education in high school, there’s usually a reason,” she explained. Sometimes students have learning disabilities or have not done well in class. But most of the time, she said, they didn’t have an adult in the house who could take them driving. Often this is because the family did not have a vehicle or money for gasoline.

“If you want to work in Vermont, you have to know how to drive a car,” she said. “And the bottom line is that you have to practice to get your license.”

Indeed, according to the rules of the DMV, student drivers are required to spend at least six hours behind the wheel with an instructor and six additional hours to observe from the back seat. Students practice safe operation of the vehicle, as well as the three maneuvers required to pass a road test: a hill start, a “U-turn” or a K-turn and parallel parking.

For more than two months, social distancing rules prevented Netsch and his team from taking driving lessons. Theoretically, she could have offered one-on-one instruction, with only one student in the car at a time.

“But by our own standards, we’re not supposed to be alone in a vehicle with a child,” explained Netsch, who usually has other students in the car. “Not sure, if you know what I mean.”

So far, Netsch has not felt the financial consequences of the pandemic as students have continued to enroll in his classes. But the weeks she couldn’t be on the road have prevented some students from accumulating enough hours behind the wheel, meaning she won’t be able to teach new students while she is still training previous ones. .

“I think we’re all going to pay the price in the fall because I don’t think we’ll be done driving yet,” she said. “The real loss of income is down the road.”

But driver education programs have recently returned to driving. On June 1, Scott announced that the DMV is offering online tests for student drivers to obtain their learner’s license. And from June 8, DMV examiners resumed road testing.

In order to more effectively overcome the backlog of canceled road tests, the DMV has also announced that it allows certified driving instructors to administer road tests themselves and issue temporary permits – a policy Netsch has adopted. initially opposed.

“I always felt like I wanted another professional to check my work,” she explained. “However, these are unusual times.”

Although she is eager to bring her traditional classes up to standard, Netsch suspects that some of the changes adopted during the pandemic could become permanent. In particular, it could continue to offer online courses, especially for parents who have to leave their jobs and make long trips to drop off and pick up their children.

And while teaching online has “never been my thing,” Netsch said, she’s getting used to it, with the computer help of her own students.

“They know more, and they know they know more, ”she added. “But they also know I know more about driving. So that creates a balanced relationship. ”

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