Teach­ers of­fer driver’s ed through new busi­ness

Calvert school plans to ex­pand in the re­gion as need de­vel­ops

Maryland Independent - - Business - By DAR­WIN WEIGEL dweigel@somd­news.com Twit­ter: @somd_bized­i­tor

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.”

STAFF PHO­TOS BY DAR­WIN WEIGEL

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.

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