Teen drivers in St. Helens will now have one more option when it comes to taking driver education courses before getting behind the wheel.
Starting in mid-October, St. Helens High School will be able to offer an after school driver education program taught by Rich Greene through the Oregon Driver Education Center.
Greene, who has two daughters who recently graduated from SHHS, said he saw the need for more programs firsthand when his girls went to get their driver's licenses.
Greene said when his daughters tried to schedule a drive test at the St. Helens DMV, he was surprised at how long they would have to wait and ultimately he took his daughters to Keizer to take the exam sooner.
"It caused me to say, what's involved in becoming a driver education instructor in Oregon?" Greene explained.
One of the benefits of taking an Oregon Department of Transportation-certified driver education course is that teens who successfully complete it don't need to take the driving portion of the exam at the DMV, only the written exam.
Greene took a three-week long certification course at Western Oregon University over the summer to earn his certification as an instructor. He approached the Oregon Driver Education Center, a private company which runs programs in Portland and Salem, and asked if they would be interested in helping him provide a class in St. Helens. After he got the go-ahead, he approached the St. Helens School District about using district classroom space to teach the courses.
Greene, who will continue to work a full-time job while also instructing the classes, said this provides a unique way for him to serve the community by teaching young people safe driving habits.
"Anybody who's lived here for a period of time, you see the children we lose every year on Cornelius Pass Road ... it just felt like a way I could give back to the community. I don't feel like 16 hours of my time a week to give back is that much," Greene said.
The entire program requires students to complete 30 hours of classroom education, six hours behind the wheel and six hours of driving observation. The class is not just about teaching students the basic components of how to operate a vehicle, but how to do so safely.
"There's a lot of risk of driving ... The best way to measure how good of driver you are is how you handle risk management. How can you minimize your risk while driving to make you the safest driver you can be?" Greene explained. "That is what the Oregon program is all about."
Currently, only one other ODOT-certified program is offered in south Columbia County — the Scappoose High School program. However, with a limited number of seats in the highly sought after program, classes fill up fast and others are waitlisted.
Kelsey Quinn, a science teacher at SHS, is one of several staff members who teaches the classes. In Scappoose, the district owns the driver education vehicle and pays for the insurance, unlike the St. Helens program, which will operate with a third party provider.
The district component adds a layer of complexity when it comes to teaching classes, however. Instructors must be school district staff, but asking staff members to then enroll in a 120-hour training program can be a lot to ask, Quinn explained.
Quinn said she is excited to see another program starting in the area that will help teens learn to drive safely and responsibly.
"I'm super excited to hear there's another program in the county," Quinn said. "Columbia County has been in dire need of another driver's ed program for a while."
A student and parent orientation presentation for the St. Helens driver education class will be held at St. Helens High School in the Loo Witt room on Thursday, Oct. 11, from 6 to 7 p.m. Registration and more information about the classes can be found online at www.drivereducationcenter.com/enrollment/SHHS.html. The first set of classes are set to begin on Oct. 16.
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