Driver’s ed program’s future uncertain following crashing halt

Ella Labarre, Staff Writer

The Student Government Association’s (SGA) driver’s education program, piloted in April of 2022, has been brought to a standstill following a switch in administration and a “bad” accident, according to Sarah Beisner `22, former SGA resources and services coordinator who organized and spearheaded the program. Many students are now left with little information on when or how it could someday be revived.

The program was the first of its kind and intended to help provide and pay for 20 students’ six-week driving instruction course. Beisner organized the program, which would help students obtain an Iowa learner’s permit and license with help from the Centers for Career, Life and Service.

An application was sent out to the student population early in the spring of 2022, and a budget of $16,180 was approved for the program, with the possibility of increasing capacity and budget in the future.

“My first year of college I didn’t have a driver’s license, and I was trying super hard to learn, but there was just not that much opportunity and the classes were super expensive,” said Beisner.

Two hundred ten students reported interest in taking a driver’s edclassatGrinnellCollegeaccording to a survey run by SGA in which 68.28% of international student respondents and 41.54% of Black student respondents expressed interest in taking the course compared to only 11.5% of white respondents expressing interest.

“International students only comprise 19.5% of the student body, but 52.6% of students who expressed interest in driver’s ed were international students. Black and Hispanic students were similarly overrepresented,” said Beisner.

Beisner said she made it a goal of hers to address the lack of accessible transportation on campus and said that transportation, even with the limited resources provided by the college, remains difficult for students without a valid U.S. driver’s license.

“As an international student, it is really convenient to know how to drive in Grinnell where there is very little public transportation,” said Paata Kaloiani `25, one of the students selected for the program.

The program was set to begin on April 4, 2022, the week after Grinnell’s spring break. However, on March 10, Beisner said she received word that the driving instructor from Street Smarts, the driving school SGA partnered with based in Clive, Iowa, had terminated his position.

According to Ed Jennings, owner of Street Smarts, the termination came after the instructor, along with the high school student he was teaching, got into a car accident that left the car totaled.

“There was a fairly bad collision. The car was on a two-lane country road when another car crossed the centerline, swerving to miss an animal or something, and they hit our car and caused it to somehow roll over on the road,” said Jennings. He explained that no one was seriously hurt but the driving instructor was “pretty shaken up and didn’t want to get back in the car for at least a little while.”

As the driving school did not have another instructor at the time, the program was put to a halt and Beisner contacted students by email saying the program would be discontinued until at least the following fall.

Beisner’s email read, “I’ve spent the past week contacting other driver’s education providers, and no one has the capacity with this late notice to provide instruction to twenty students. I am currently working to ensure that the program does happen this fall, and if it does work out, you will be automatically selected to participate.”

Upon graduating last spring, Beisner handed off all the information regarding the program to the new SGA cabinet and Ashley Adams, associate director of student involvement.

Jivyaa Vaidya `23, one of the students originally selected for the program and current SGA vice president of academic affairs, said that “as of right now, working on projects is not a priority because we want to focus on other basic foundations.”

“We understand the interest and the value of the program, and we’re hopeful for the future … but it would be premature to talk about the specifics,” Adams said.

Beisner expressed concern over the program still being on hold and said, “I got emails from students who were excited about it. Now, I am worried that because it didn’t happen, that means it never will happen.”

“It’s a pressing equity issue that I think should be addressed, and I just don’t know if there’s willpower among the students or staff to do it,” she added, referring to the lack of driving accessibility.

“I was really happy to have the option of learning how to drive, and I thought I would finally no longer need to rely on others to drive me around,” said Amisha Pershad `23, one of the students originally selected for the program. She explained that having a U.S. license would be especially beneficial for her as she is graduating soon and will no longer be able to rely on other students for day-to-day transportation.

“I am disappointed, but I understand their reasons. I really hope the SGA can start it again soon,” Pershad added.