Learning how to drive is usually reserved for high school students nearing their 16th birthday. They languish in long, slow classes during the summer. They slowly accumulate practice behind the wheel, pestering a parent to take them out on the roads.
But on Wednesday morning, some sixth-graders at Keane Elementary scored a special treat on their last day before Christmas vacation: a drive in the school parking lot.
“What’s the first thing you need to know about a car?” Steve Darling of Easy Method Driving School asked a group of four students as they poked their heads into his car.
“The cup holder,” one of the students offered.
“The cup holder, right, up high girl,” Darling said, with a smile and a high-five before turning back to his serious lesson. “There are two pedals — the brake and the gas. Which one is bigger …? Think brake is bigger; the brake is always bigger.”
The lesson was condensed into about 45 minutes, but the sixth-graders each got a turn behind the wheel, lurching slowly through a coned-off section of the parking lot. One student even parallel parked. All the while, Darling had full control of the vehicle outfitted with passenger-side brakes and constructed for training young drivers.
“I didn’t know the car could just move by itself …” said Mercedes Pendt, 11, after her first chance behind the wheel. “I thought you used both feet.”
The driving lesson was one of around 20 special activities offered to Keane students as part of the school’s first-ever “Student Professional Development Day.” Teachers and volunteers taught students how to crochet, snowboard, design graphic novels, do magic, eat healthy — and, of course — drive.
The school decided that rather than waste the half-day of school on standard classroom parties or trying to push a book lesson on students anxious for a long break, they would give students a chance to explore different jobs, hobbies and life skills.
“We just wanted to expose them to all of these different things,” said teacher Betsey McKoy, one of the day’s organizers. “We hope it inspires them and shows them how important hard work is and commitment to things.”
At the end of the morning, after students had a chance to rotate through four of the activities, volunteers from Calvary Tabernacle served them lunch, and they were treated to a magic show from magician Jim Snack.
In one of the classes, students were decorating cupcakes to share with the rest of the school at lunch.
“I already ran out of frosting,” Annalisa Hussain, 10, said as she looked at the second of four cupcakes she was tasked with decorating.
“You put too much on,” a friend next to her said.
“You can never put too much on,” Annalisa responded defiantly. “Everyone will eat mine.”
On the same floor as the cupcake decorators, students were designing graphic novels or learning how to sign the alphabet. A nutritionist demonstrated the fat content of different foods by showing the students how long it took for grease stains on paper bags to clear up. Another group peppered Lt. Mark McCracken from the Schenectady Police Department with questions about being an officer. In a different room, teacher Jon Snyder demonstrated the art of snowboarding, and they later raffled off a board for the students.
“Toe-heels, toe-heels, toe-heels,” he said as students stood up in front of desks and rolled back and forth on their feet, some of them losing balancing and landing back in their chairs. “That is snowboarding.”
Reach Gazette reporter Zachary Matson at 395-3120, [email protected] or @zacharydmatson on Twitter.