photo courtesy of safeteendriving.org
When students at Jefferson begin the driver licensing process, the teacher that they are in pursuit of is Mrs. Heidi Smith, a physical education and health instructor. Mrs. Smith specializes in teaching driver education, striving to help students grasp the techniques behind operating vehicles and promoting safety while on the road.
On Oct. 15, the county-mandated Partners for Safe Teen Driving (PSTD) Assembly was hosted in the auditorium by Mrs. Smith and physical education teacher Ms. Melissa Stile. Students and their parents need to be present at the PSTD assembly, held once each quarter, to fulfill a requirement for becoming a licensed driver in Virginia. Current juniors and seniors need to pre-register for the seminar and pay a 30 dollar tuition fee, while sophomores do not pre-register and attend for free.
“My main priority is to get our parents and students on board as a community to help promote safe driving habits,” Smith said. “We are all in this together. I’m not asking for all of us to be perfect, I’m only asking that we try to give a perfect effort when it comes to making decisions behind the wheel that can impact our lives forever.”
PSTD is a 90-minute assembly that emphasizes the importance of parents in guiding their children through the the driver licensing process. Powerpoint slides and videos featured the sometimes fatal consequences caused by careless or inexperienced teen drivers, the importance of adults setting good examples for proper driving, and tips on coaching student drivers. Several parents grew emotional when the dangers of texting while driving as well as substance abuse were discussed. Security resource officer Monica Meeks wrapped up the presentation by speaking of her personal experience as a policewoman and parent to three high school graduates.
“I don’t think it’s possible to digest all of the material [given during the 90 minute session], but it is my hope that everyone walks away with a ‘new normal’ about safe driving practices in general.” Smith said.
Though PSTD’s main priority is relaying information to parents, students are also required to attend the assembly in an attempt to encourage them to behave responsibly while holding a permit or license. Both groups are taught to treat the licensing process as a bonding experience, where support and good decision-making skills can be passed on from the parent to the student.
“My favorite part about teaching Driver’s Ed? It’s helping our students and parents put the word unity in our community,” Smith said. “We can all live a long, healthier life by simply making good decisions while obeying all traffic laws. I always tell them, ‘We do what we know. When we know better, we do better.’”
In addition to the seminar, Mrs. Smith teaches the driver’s education school course, along with the other physical education teachers. In the classroom, Mrs. Smith advises her students to discover how resilient they are, their “R” factor, to coping with hardships that may come from causing a car accident. If driving is not taken seriously, the car will quickly transform into a weapon that is able to harm its own passengers, as well as the passengers in surrounding cars on the road.
“Always remember that you, the driver, are responsible for everything that happens when you get behind the wheel to drive,” Smith says.
Completing PTSD and the in-class driver education program will guarantee the student a DEC District 8 Pink Card, which is needed for further training in Behind the Wheel. To get a learner’s permit, one also must pass the DMV learner’s permit test.