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Wash. State Migrant Council teaching people how to drive

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Washington State Migrant Council driving school instructor Abdon Valdez shows two students the importance of having properly operating safety equipment on a vehicle. The Migrant Council has been operating its driving school in Sunnyside since the end of July.

Not far from where thousands of Yakima Valley residents took their driving test years ago, a new generation of drivers is getting a chance to study up before heading over to the Washington State Department of Driver Licensing office in Sunnyside to try for their driver's license.

The Washington State Migrant Council is offering drivers education classes at 105-D South Sixth St., on the east end of the old driver licensing department, near the Migrant Council's executive office.

According to Cristina Klatovsky and Noemi Ortega with the Washington State Migrant Council, the local non-profit organization was certified to teach drivers education classes at the beginning of July and by the end of the month the first set of classes was off the ground.

The first question most people ask when they hear that the Migrant Council has taken on the task of offering drivers' training - is how does that fit in with what the organization is doing? Klatovsky admitted that when you first look at it there doesn't seem to be a connection.

However, she explained that the Migrant Council started thinking about offering classes after a successful car seat program. She said during the car seat clinic parents bring their vehicles in to ensure that they are properly using car seats for their children. What the Migrant Council found out during the clinic is that although they were able to ensure that children were riding in cars safely, what they weren't able to do was ensure that the person driving the car had a driver's license or knew how to properly operate a vehicle.

"Talking to mom and dad we kept hearing, 'We don't have a license,'" Klatovsky said.

She added that driving without a license ends up not only being a safety issue for the person behind the wheel and their passengers, but also for everyone who uses the road.

"It seemed to be a problem of high priority," Klatovsky said.

Ortega noted that upon further inspection the Migrant Council discovered there was no place for bilingual or monolingual Spanish speakers to learn about drivers training. She added that the Migrant Council driving school is the first bilingual certified driving school in the state of Washington.

"There is a huge need out there," Ortega said of bilingual drivers training.

Klatovsky said when the Migrant Council was first thinking about taking on a driving school, thoughts were of helping prepare adult drivers to pass the tests necessary to receive their license. However, when the school opened its doors staff members were surprised by the number of youths who were signing up for the class.

Klatovsky said the Migrant Council was fortunate enough to put two of its staff members, Gilbert Garza and Abdon Valdez, through training and both were certified to teach both adult and youth drivers education classes in English and Spanish.

Klatovsky said the Migrant Council driving school has been getting quite a few Granger students in its class, noting that Granger High School is no longer offering drivers education. She added that because there were so many Granger students in the first class, the Migrant Council actually had to run a van up to Granger every day to pick up the students and bring them to class.

Klatovsky explained that even though there are quite a few youths taking advantage of the local driving school, there are also a number of adults who are turning out to gain a better understanding of the rules of the road.

There are class times set up, but the schedule is very flexible and allows for one-on-one instruction. Someone who can't make it in during the regular class time or who doesn't necessarily feel comfortable in a setting like that, can come in whenever their schedule allows and go through training.

Although the driving class is sponsored by the Washington State Migrant Council, Klatovsky said it is open to the entire community. Klatovsky added that it is a private pay program. The cost of the class is $85 for the classroom training and $225 for the behind-the-wheel training. She noted that the driving school currently has two state certified vehicles for use in the behind-the-wheel training.

For more information about the Washington State Migrant Council driving school call 1-800-478-2219 or 837-2525.

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