• Last modified 319 days ago (July 6, 2023)


He has his own brake . . . and he knows how to use it

Staff writer

Ava Box gets behind the wheel of a Chevy van with “STUDENT DRIVER” emblazoned on it.

It’s the last day of driver ed for her and three other 14-year-olds who’ve been taking the class in the afternoons since June 5.

Ava looks nervous, but she does a fine job driving on Sunflower Rd. to pick up another student between Marion and US-50.

“She didn’t go off the road,” instructor Joe Sechrist says, laughing. “I have a brake but no accelerator and no steering wheel.”

By Day 5, Sechrist typically doesn’t need to use his brake.

“At the beginning it’s more often,” he said.

Ava is one of 31 students who started out in driver ed. Twenty-seven were expected to pass.

Merging onto highways and parallel parking are what challenge students the most — that and driving 75 mph in interstate highways.

“Driving 75 miles per hour compared with 20 on Main St. is a bit of a change,” Sechrist says.

“I didn’t understand how to do it on different sides,” Kaelynn Metro says of merging.

Parallel parking trips up Jacob Tharp the most.

“I’m decent now, but it was hard at the start,” he admits.

That’s not surprising, Sechrist says.

“Some adults will avoid parallel parking like the plague,” he says.

Kate Wessel, the student whom Box picks up between Marion and US-50, says merging is the most difficult part of driving.

The best part is “taking the class with your friends, driving, and getting experience,” she says.

After completing eight three-hour classroom periods, students hit the road.

“The ones who do the best have had some experience,” Sechrist said.

Students are allowed to drive with their parents or guardians before driver ed if they have an instruction permit, formerly called a learner’s permit.

On their first day of driving with Sechrist, students work on left- and right-hand turns and stopping at stop signs. They drive on K-256 to US-77, manage a roundabout and return on US-56.

They head to Hillsboro on their second day and practice parking, three-point turns, changing lanes, and parallel parking.

Passing other vehicles is a focus on Day 3.

“The hardest thing to teach kids is changing lanes,” Sechrist says.

Nathan Hiebert, who teaches the classroom portion of driver ed, drives in a separate vehicle, and students test their skills by passing him. They have a parallel parking test and also drive country roads.

On their fourth day, they go to McPherson, use cruise control, and practice getting on and off the highway.

“They also have their first experience with stoplights and a four-lane Main St.,” Sechrist said.

Finally, on their last day, they drive Sunflower Rd. to US-50 and head toward Newton.

Newton also has stoplights — something Marion doesn’t.

“I have them go right on red and practice basic maneuvers,” Sechrist said.

Sechrist has been teaching driver ed in Marion for three years. He also taught it in Hesston for three years. He’s a school counselor in Wichita.

Although they’re not experts by any means, his students have a tip for other drivers: Don’t roll through stop signs.

Last modified July 6, 2023