High school commercial driver's license class
Connell High School CDL students pose with the program’s donated truck and trailer. The equipment allows students to practice pre-trip inspections and get real-life experience behind the wheel.
By Kindra Plumb
Sometimes it’s the simplest ideas that make the biggest impact.
The high school commercial driver’s license (CDL) preparatory class at Connell High School, Connell, Wash., began as a dream for Charlie Dansie, Connell High School agricultural education instructor, following a phone call from a relative. “My wife’s uncle and his two sons own and operate a sod farm,” says Dansie. “They had a load of sod that needed to get to Seattle, but there were no CDL drivers to haul it.”
The seed was planted. And then the COVID-19 pandemic swept over the country.
“Charlie’s dream of offering a CDL preparatory class to his students stayed alive during COVID,” says Jim Jacobs, superintendent of North Franklin School District. “During that time, he continued to work on standards and curriculum for the class.”
Step by step, Dansie moved his proposed high school CDL preparatory curriculum though local, state and federal education channels. All approvals were granted in November 2021. The first class started in January 2022 with 30 students.
Meeting the need
“We live in a predominantly agriculture-based community,” says Keeley Gant, director for career and technical education at Educational Service District 123 based in Pasco, Wash. “There is a huge employment gap for CDL drivers. Charlie developed a high school course curriculum that is responsive to our community’s need.”
The CDL preparatory class not only offers an avenue to train more drivers, but also provides stepping stones for students who are seeking jobs with livable salaries. “The majority of our students have ties to agriculture,” says Bill Walker, principal of Connell High School. “Not all students want to go on to receive higher education. We need to ensure that our students are ready for their next steps in life, whether that is further education or seeking well-paying employment.”
Real-life experience behind the wheel
For Levi Danz, a 2022 graduate of Connell High School, participating in the CDL preparatory class opened his eyes to a new, exciting career path.
“I wasn’t thinking about getting my CDL until I heard about Mr. Dansie’s class,” says Danz. “It was the number one class on my list for the spring semester.”
The CDL class consists of safety videos, guest speakers, pre-trip inspection practice and opportunities for students to get behind the wheel of a big rig. For many, this is their first time sitting in the driver’s seat of an 18-wheeler. “Mr. Dansie has students drive a truck at least once to make sure it is actually something we want to do,” says Danz.
Following high school graduation, Danz earned his CDL instruction permit and spent the summer driving and studying. He passed his CDL driving test in September.
The future looks bright for Danz. He joined the National Guard, where he will be driving a truck. After his military service, he wants to pursue a mechanical engineering degree while using his CDL to do custom hauling for local agricultural producers.
“Mr. Dansie taught me everything I needed to know,” says Danz. “I don’t know how I could ever show enough appreciation for his help.”
Community support for CDL class
Trucking companies and ag-related businesses recognize the importance of this program and have been generous with financial support and resources, Walker says. The CDL preparatory class is a recent recipient of the CHS Seeds for Stewardship grant through the CHS retail business based in Quincy, Wash.
“Our Seeds for Stewardship grant to North Franklin School District provides funding for in-school CDL training primarily for high school seniors,” says Tyson Chick, general manager, CHS SunBasin Growers. “This program is actively addressing the local need for licensed CDL drivers.”
Check out the full issue of C magazine with this article and more.