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CVTC President Takes College’s Winter Driving Class with ELL Students

Friday, December 10, 2021

CVTC President Takes College’s Winter Driving Class with ELL Students

Image: CVTC President Takes College’s Winter Driving Class with ELL Students

Sunem Beaton-Garcia, Chippewa Valley Technical College president, is no worse for the wear after her driving lesson on the vehicle skid pad at the college. Sunem, who is used to weather in her former home state of Florida, took CVTC’s annual winter driving course, which ended with a behind-the-wheel portion Friday, Dec. 10.

Sunem Beaton-Garcia watched as a student in a white Ford Crown Victoria spun out in the snow. She put on a brave face. She knew soon it would be her turn.  
“People usually learn to do this without being in front of the whole community,” she said of the local media who showed up at Chippewa Valley Technical College to watch her learn a task most Wisconsinites claim to already know.
Beaton-Garcia, an immigrant to the U.S. who lived in Florida until taking the President position at CVTC in July, learned how to drive in the snow by professionals Friday morning.
Nearly every year since 2015, students in Juli Baker’s English Language Learners class take a week-long winter driving course, which includes days of classroom instruction and one day of behind-the-wheel work.
Beaton-Garcia will tell you she was prepared for winter. A few months ago, in anticipation of snow, the wife and mother of one purchased an all-wheel drive vehicle. But after the last few weeks of driving in the snow from her Altoona home to work and back, she knew a lesson driving in snow couldn’t hurt. After all, during the summer it only took her 10 minutes to get to the CVTC campus. With snow, her drive time has doubled.
But for her, the safety factor is what matters.
“I’m so thankful that we have amazing instructors who offer this type of instruction for our students who aren’t used to driving in this climate,” she said. “This year that also happens to include my husband Carlos and me.”
The winter driving course was born out of necessity for students, Baker said.
In 2015, Baker co-taught a Certified Nursing Assistant course for a handful of ELL students.
“At the end, after they had worked so hard to get certified, one of them said she didn’t think she could accept the job she had been offered,” Baker recalled. “She was afraid to drive in the snow, and the busses didn’t run early enough for her to get to work on time.”
The first course consisted of classroom instruction only. In 2016, CVTC added the behind-the-wheel portion of the course.
With snow falling Friday, criminal justice instructors Jeff Pettis and Tony Elstern, who teach the course, said everyone could use a refresher on driving in winter weather conditions.
Both instructors said to keep a few things in mind when you know driving conditions may be less than ideal. Make sure tires and inflated to tire specifications. Plan extra time to get from point A to point B. Turn your lights on so others can see you. Leave extra space between your vehicle and the vehicle in front of you, and slow down.
Baker’s students who took the class this week were thankful for the extra help.
Despite Sunem’s bit of trepidation, she was a star pupil. She brought the car up to 25 mph and corrected the vehicle after instructor Helstern caused the vehicle to lose control with a tap of the brake.
“I will still drive cautiously, but now I know what it feels like – it’s that muscle memory,” she said. “It might still take me 20 minutes to get to work, but at least now I’m more confident in my abilities.”

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