Prefer not to get behind the wheel with your teen? These Upper Valley driver’s ed instructors are ready to help
By Amy Cranage
Who are the brave folks that gleefully accept the challenge of teaching teenagers how to drive? Why do they do it? How did they decide on this career? Some taught driver education at public high schools before funding was cut and have since opened their own driving academies. The demand for driving instruction is high and is appealing to empty nesters, retirees, former educators and others who enjoy working with young people.
Mom and Pop Shops
“I love my job,” says Sharon Cameron of Twin State Driving Academy in Lebanon, N.H., “We get to meet most of the kids, walk the journey with them through an important rite of passage.” Cameron and her husband, John, a former schoolteacher, took over the business — which caters only to teenagers — from its previous owner more than a decade ago.
In an agreement with the Lebanon School District, anyone who attends school in Lebanon or lives in the school district has first dibs on spots in Twin State’s courses. Openings are welcome to students outside of Lebanon when space is available. Sharon, current president of the New Hampshire Driver Education Teachers Association, handles most of the classroom instruction and John focuses on behind-the-wheel practice. Classes meet twice a week for two hours in their seven-week course. Summer courses follow a more condensed schedule.
Another husband and wife team, Ron and Rosemary Hill of Enfield, N.H., operate RandR Driving School at Hanover High School and other locations. Their extensive web site allows students to enroll online for five-week-long courses that meet for two hours per day and three days per week. “We take a holistic approach to the development of our children within our community using education as the anchor,” says Ron Hill.
Ron has worked with teens as a basketball coach, as a parent and as a director in a youth placement facility. “I mostly enjoy the opportunity to have some real life conversations, seeing these teens at age of question and, most times, uncertainty,” he says. “Our goal for each new driver is to have them leave our program with a strong understanding of how to make safe and sound decisions and how their decisions not only affect their lives but the lives of others.”
A Second (or Third, or Fourth) Career
Dan Warner, of Hartland, Vt., runs Warner’s Driving School that he holds at the Church of Abundant Life in Lebanon, N.H. from April through November every year. The former publisher and day trader started teaching driving when his brother-in-law begged him for help meeting the growing demand for driving instruction. Before the program ended, he taught driver education at Lebanon High School. In his 15-plus year career, Warner has taught students with ADHD, folks on the autism spectrum and foreign-born adults how to drive.
Warner’s Driving School is not affiliated with a school district; any New Hampshire resident is welcome to enroll. “These kids are great,” says Warner when asked what he likes about teaching driver education to today’s youth. Although he lives in Vermont, he is certified to teach only in New Hampshire. Warner prides himself on his school’s small classes (10 to 11 students) and short sessions (five weeks long).
Having a disability such as ADD, ADHD, autism spectrum disorder or one of many others does not preclude acquiring a driver’s license. Longtime driver educator, Bruce Renfro, and Bonnie Goodman, an occupational therapist assist drivers with special needs of all ages at Adaptive Driving Associates in White River Junction, Vt. Renfro and Goodman specialize in evaluating and training teens and adults who need additional one-on-one instruction or special equipment due to a physical impairment.
The Joy of Teaching
Gabriella Netsch of Wallingford, Vt., established Yankee Driving School after retiring early from her job as an elementary school principal. First, Netsch taught driver education at The Sharon Academy, in Sharon, Vt., in 2007; since then, her school has grown to include three vehicles, two employees and classes at eight locations including Norwich, Thetford, Sharon and Woodstock.
Yankee Driving School’s goal is to produce safe drivers by emphasizing “paying attention, seat belts, distractions and speed.” Guest appearances by a police officer and a car accident victim as well as serious discussions about organ donation, drug and alcohol use and texting underscore the emphasis on safety. Aware of the unpredictability of life and family finances, Netsch is proud of her school’s 100 percent refund policy.
Steven Longtin of Sunapee, N.H., teaches at Mascoma Valley Regional High School and runs Sunapee Driving School at Sunapee Middle High School in his spare time. With such a busy schedule, it is no surprise that he was not available for interview. According to his web site, Longtin has been teaching drivers since 2001; his courses are booked several months ahead.
A School within a School
Granite Hill School is a small private school in Newport, N.H., that provides special education services to students in grades 6 to 12. These driver education classes at are led by Peter Newbern of Newbury, N.H., and are open to anyone seeking a New Hampshire driver’s license. Each session consists of two 2-hour classes per week for 7 ½ weeks at the school’s facility at 135 Elm Street.
“I enjoy working and interacting with teenagers, and hopefully helping to make them safe drivers,” says Newbern. He advises parents to “get out and drive as much as you can with your child. Also, try and be as understanding and patient with them so they will want to drive with you.”
The Latest Model
The newest driver education school is the Upper Valley Driving Academy of Newbury, Vt. The owners, Richard Kearney and Anthony Stevens, offer courses at the Hartland Volunteer Fire Department, Rivendell Academy and Thetford Academy that are open to anyone enrolled in a Vermont high school (including New Hampshire residents).
Kearney is president-elect for the Vermont Driver and Traffic Safety Education Association and Stevens was the 2018 Vermont Driver and Traffic Safety Education Association Teacher of the Year. As it states on their web site, “Learning to drive is an important responsibility that we take very seriously.” A three-page letter of agreement outlines strict requirements and expectations; cell phones, for example, “are turned off and stowed out of sight while in the classroom and in the car.”
Crossing the Finish Line
Teaching teens how to drive is a labor of love for these folks; they sincerely enjoy and take pride in making sure kids learn the rules of the road and become safe, responsible drivers. The fact that driver education is no longer the responsibility of public school districts allows teens and their parents to comparison shop — to choose the location, course and instructor that best suits their needs.
Know Your State Laws
- Residents under age 18 must complete a driver education course in order to get a driver’s license.
- Granite state student drivers must be at least 15¾ years old on the first day of a driver education course.
- New Hampshire driver education courses include 30 hours of classroom time, 10 hours driving with an instructor and 6 hours observing while another student drives. Students are required to document 40 hours of practice driving, of which 10 hours must be at night.
- At age 15½, a child may practice driving as long as a licensed driver of at least 25 years of age accompanies him or her.
- As one of the few states without a learner’s permitting process, N.H. students must always have a copy of their birth certificate with them when behind the wheel.
- Apply for an official Vermont Learner’s Permit at dmv.vermont.gov on or after the child’s 15th birthday. Vermonters must possess this permit in order to enroll in a driver education course and for a full year (365 days!) before they can test for a driver’s license.
- With a permit, Vermont teens may practice driving as long as a licensed driver age 25 or older is also in the car.
- Vermont driver education courses consist of 30 classroom hours, 6 driving hours and 6 hours of observation of another student driver. Students must log 40 hours of driving practice — including at least 10 of those hours at night.
Upper Valley Driver Education
Adaptive Driving Associates
Granite Hill Driving School
RandR Driving School
Sunapee Driving School
Twin State Driving Academy
Upper Valley Driving Academy
Warner’s Driving School
Yankee Driving School
Amy Cranage lives in Grantham, N.H., with her husband, teenage daughter and two border collies. Mr. Alves was her driver’s ed teacher at Lebanon High School in the early ‘80s.