Trying out the driving range at SCCTC’s new CDL school for the first time on June 26 were (top, from left) students Russell Cordner, Herman Nissley, Evan Turner, and Jay Dennison, instructor Brian Eso, students Charles Bray, Julian Kupst, Mark Broderick, Fredrick Shiptoski, and Joshua Korty, and instructor Dale Fisher. Above, Josh Korty of Forest City brings the rig into the parking spot for the first time with instructor Dale Fisher as his co-pilot. Korty has always enjoyed driving and is seeking his CDL certification to take his passion to the next level.
By Rick Hiduk
June 26 marked one of many milestones yet to come at Susquehanna County Career & Technology Center’s new CDL training school. Five days into the course, the nine students comprising the first daytime class took turns climbing into a rig and maneuvering it around the driving course. For most of them, it was their first time in the drivers seat of a big truck and one giant step toward obtaining a lucrative new career.
The opening of the school was delayed from March 30 to June 22 due to shutdowns related to the COVID-19 health crisis. The openness of the driving range and two spacious classrooms are also providing an opportunity for SCCTC administrators to work with CDC and PA Department of Health guidelines as they look to resuming other courses in the fall.
“We have plenty of room to do social distancing,” SCCTC executive director Dr. Alice Davis said of the double-wide classroom building. COVID certainly was not part of the original plans when the construction of the school was announced last summer, but the extra room intended to allow for expansion of the program is serving a dual purpose.
The value of well-trained, certified truck drivers has never been more apparent than during the pandemic, as big rigs and tankers kept America moving. Several regional companies and corporations provided the financial support for the construction of the training center and, according to Davis, will have the first opportunities to interview and hire CDL school graduates.
Ages of daytime students range from 20 to 60, but their reasons for pursuing CDL certification are similar. Family-sustaining wages and job security top the list. Others cited a life-long ambition to drive trucks or a desire for a career change.
“I’ve had it in the back of my mind for quite awhile,” said Herman Nissley of Leraysville, who is currently employed in the logging industry. “In the future, I’d like to drive over the road.”
“Hopefully, I can get a water truck job,” said Evan Turner of Tunkhannock, the youngest class member at 20. He’d shown an interest in driving since high school, and his mother and grandfather steered him toward the course. “We’ll see where it takes me.”
“I’m leaving the doors open to see what’s out there,” Mark Broderick of Montrose concurred. At 60, he has worked as a dairy farmer, a contractor and in factories and is looking for a different vocation. “This is opening a new door for me,” he remarked.
Safety is the first priority of instructors and of the companies who will hire the new drivers. Students are subject to random drug testing and told to keep their driving records clean. On June 26, they took turns assessing aspects of truck function and maintenance that will be part of daily pre-trip inspections. In the classroom, instructor Dale Fisher talked with them about potential distractions that could affect their driving.
“The simplest way to be safe is to be aware of your surroundings,” Fisher stated. “That includes weather and other people on the road.”
Fisher of New Milford and Brian Eso of Tunkhannock are the school’s two full-time instructors, both bringing decades of experience to the classroom and driving range. For Eso, the teaching job represents a new direction after 30 years on the road. One week into the 10-week night course, he was pleased with the connection he was making with his students.
“I’ve been driving long enough that I feel that I have something to give back,” Eso remarked. “The class is doing very well. They are learning quickly.”
Eso’s class of five nighttime students are not looking for new careers but are instead seeking the certification to advance within their day jobs. Katrina Capwell is an office worker at Meshoppen Stone, and her husband, William, drives a tractor trailer. In addition to increasing her value at her current job, Capwell will be able to assist her husband.
She cited Eso as being very knowledgeable and making learning fun. Capwell is looking forward to the arrival of a driver simulator unit and admits that parallel parking an entire rig might be her biggest challenge.
Whatever the challenge, Dr. Davis, who also serves as a counselor at the school maintains that SCCTC staff is ready to help the students with whatever aspects of their course work or personal lives that will help them bring their dreams to fruition. “We want to look at the whole person and meet their personal needs as well as their academic needs,” she offered.
For more information about the CDL school at SCCTC, including scheduling and the application process, interested readers may log on to www.scctc-school.org or call 570-278-9229.
Instructor Dale Fisher (foreground) guides Herman Nissley of Leraysville through a pre-trip inspection as Mark Broderick of Montrose looks on.