Teachers offer driver’s ed through new business
Calvert school plans to expand in the region as need develops
What better way to teach students how to drive than their classroom teacher? That’s the thinking behind the new Chesapeake Driving School in Prince Frederick.
“You hear about these driving schools that are all cops, or a lot of the people who do the instruction are retired. But why not one that is run and worked by professional certified state teachers,” said co-owner Marc Pirner, currently in his first year as assistant principal at Chopticon High School in Morganza. He spent the last five years teaching social studies at Patuxent High.
“One of our strengths is being able to connect with the kids in the classroom,” said co-owner Jeff Cunningham, an archeology teacher at Huntingtown High School.
“If you ask the average student, teenager, what’s their experience with driver’s ed, I think most of them say it’s kind of boring,” Pirner said. “They really want their license but they have to go through the boring aspect of the driver’s ed class. We wanted to change that a little bit. We’re used to the latest and greatest teaching [aides]; we use smart boards, we use group work — we all have excellent relationships with our students. That’s one of our strengths as teachers.”
They, along with Cunningham’s wife, Angela, who teaches math at J.P. Ryon Elementary School in Waldorf, started the driving school last fall, hosting their first two classes in October.
Some of those 30 teenagers were still completing their six hours of driving time with an instructor late in the year since the school only had one car, a Nissan Altima.
The first two classes were held at Huntingtown High School, but the three have an office-cum-classroom at 65 Duke St. (the Kaine Building) in Prince Frederick, where they can host classes for those not in the public school system and teach the driver improvement class required to remove points from a driver’s license.
Their first driving instructor, Justin Koch, is a friend and fellow teacher — criminal justice at Hun- tingtown — who worked for Widmyer Driving School, along with Cunningham and Pirner.
“Jeff approached me with this idea and asked me if I wanted to drive with him. He’s a good friend, and I figured why not be the start of something that could be pretty cool,” Koch said just before heading out on a last drive with Huntingtown junior MacKenzie Dillon.
“I take [the driving test] next week,” Dillon said before getting behind the wheel. “I could have gotten my license on [November] 29th, so once I finish this I can take it next week.”
Cunningham started doing driver’s ed for Widmy- er four years ago to earn extra income and later brought Koch and Pirner aboard as they began attracting more students.
“We realized there’s a lot of clientele down here,” Cunningham said. “There’s a lot of need for other driving schools — and we’re educators.”
Angela Cunningham, Jeff Cunningham’s wife, has mostly been behind the scenes helping set up the business side and getting through all the permit, insurance and certification entanglements that such an operation requires. She also keeps things organized so the other two can focus on instruction.
“The kids love these guys,” Angela Cunningham said. “They’re great teachers. That’s the selling point: The instructors are amazing.”
As required by the state, students spend 30 hours in the classroom, which is three hours per night for 10 nights. After that, each student needs to drive with an instructor three times for a total of six hours. They can then schedule a test to obtain their driver’s license.
Pirner has already laid the groundwork for offering driver’s ed classes at Chopticon in March and likely every other month after that. The trio is planning to purchase another car before then. They haven’t ruled out expanding into Charles County in the future.
“Depending on the need, we’ve considered going in, [scheduling classes] immediately after school, at Northern, Calvert and Patuxent as well — and maybe Leonardtown and Great Mills,” Pirner said. If need isn’t great at first, he said they can offer later classes at Huntingtown and Chopticon to allow time for students to get there from the other schools.
“We’re open to feedback from the community,” he said. “If we hear from parents that they really want a class at Northern High School, we’ll put a class at Northern High School.”
As growth takes place, they plan to hire teachers where they can to continue having state-cer- tified school teachers in the classroom and giving driving instruction.
“It’s a really good side job — nights and weekends — and you can build your own schedule,” Pirner said. “Prime time is summer, too. When teachers aren’t working, that’s when you get tons of drives done.”
For their first two classes, they ended up offering one right after school at 2:45 p.m. and another at 6:30 p.m. to better accommodate student athletes and others in extracurricular activities.
“We’re running a class — January and February — for varsity athletes, right before March 1, because that’s when the spring season starts,” Angela Cunningham said.
So far, they’ve been able to offer classes at a significant discount compared to the other big provider in Calvert and St. Mary’s counties: the College of Southern Maryland. Chesapeake Driving School charges $300 versus the $359 charged by CSM.
Another point in Chesapeake’s favor is the flexibility for parents who are strapped for cash.
“That’s another thing we realized about a lot of the clientele — we’ve been teaching for a long time — there’s a lot of struggling families out there,” Jeff Cunningham said. “We’ve worked with families that ask to put half down or pay in installments. Everyone’s paid so far.”
“We have a grand vision,” he said. “The only thing holding us back right now is we all work full time. We’re trying to keep up with the opportunity that’s there.”
From left, Marc Pirner, an assistant principal at Chopticon, and Jeff and Angela Cunningham started Chesapeake Driving School this fall in Prince Frederick. Jeff teaches archaeology at Huntingtown and Angela Cunningham teaches math at J.P. Ryon Elementary in Waldorf.
Huntingtown High School junior MacKenzie Dillon gets ready to go with driving instructor Justin Koch for the last time to complete driver’s ed requirements. Koch also teaches criminal justice at Huntingtown.