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LSC-PA to offer next round of commercial driving program

PA, PAISD to lend vehicles with instructors; PAEDC to provide scholarships

Lamar State College-Port Arthur is gearing up for its second round of a new commercial driving program — designed specifically, and upon request, to fill vacancies with the City of Port Arthur and the Port Arthur Independent School District — to train students for their Class B commercial drivers license. Port Arthur residents who apply for the 12-week course are eligible for a $1,500 scholarship from the Port Arthur Economic Development Corporation.

Ben Stafford, LSC-PA dean of technical programs, said the program began after city and PAISD workers expressed a need not only for more Class B commercial drivers in the area, but for applicants with actual experience behind the wheel of the vehicles they plan to drive.

Cynthia Martin, 30, said she and the other students who enrolled in the first round — which started Feb. 16 — will finish training and take the road test for their licenses next week. Martin said a commercial drivers license requires students to pass four written tests before taking the road exam.

The students all took the special requirements exam to obtain learners’ permits. Now, Martin said, they’re all studying or in the process of taking the general knowledge, air brakes and pre-trip exams.

Vernessa Rideau, a PAISD bus driver for the last 14 years and one of the professional drivers training students in the CDL course, said of the 10 students enrolled in the first round, four have taken and passed the road test early. They each attained their Class B licenses and are actively applying for jobs within Port Arthur. One student, Rideau said Friday, has already entered the hiring process for Port Arthur ISD.

“The city and Port Arthur ISD felt, going in, that this would be a successful way to train and hire locals to fill these much-needed vacancies,” Stafford said Tuesday. “I’m sure any of the students who secure jobs with either the city or the ISD are going to be happy employees — both entities offer good benefits and good pay.”

Stafford said all of the students in the course spend a minimum of 35 hours driving in the different vehicles — with drivers turned instructors — on loan from the City of Port Arthur and PAISD, in addition to learning how to perform a safety inspection for each vehicle.

Stafford said the college is building a support network into the CDL course to alleviate a problem the current students faced when trying to pass their learner’s permit test within the first three weeks.

“Port Arthur has changed demographically over time,” he said. “We have an older, white demographic and a younger, much more diverse demographic — with a lot of Spanish and Vietnamese. Some of our students in this first course offering struggled with the textbook, which delayed them getting the learner’s permit at the beginning of the program.

“Every single one of them speaks and reads English, but having to read and understand a very technical textbook is not the same as your normal, day-to-day level of reading comprehension. We don’t want that formal jargon to delay or hinder our students, so with this next round, we’re going to offer tutelage in the language comprehension — more targeted assistance with understanding the technical language.”

Stafford said he is considering expanding the program to offer a chance at testing for the Class A commercial drivers license.

“This first round only offered a chance for a Class B, because this was a venture the city and the ISD approached us with — they specifically needed Class B drivers, people to drive the buses and the dump trucks,” he said. “But we’re looking to partner with one of our small business owners, because we’re thinking of adding a Class A vehicle to the mix.

“If we did go that route, the textbook portion of the training would remain the same. But any student who wants that Class A license would take their test with a Class A vehicle. If they pass the test and get the license, they’d be able to drive anything — dump trucks, buses, big rigs, you name it.”

Stafford said nine of the 10 students in the first round were awarded $1,500 scholarships from the Port Arthur EDC, leaving the remaining 11 up for grabs for future students. The scholarships are available to any Port Arthur resident and cover the full cost of the course.

Stafford said anyone interested in taking the course — especially Port Arthur residents wanting to apply for the EDC scholarship — should start the application process immediately.

“A Class B CDL is a Texas Department of Transportation license, so this isn’t like applying for an average course,” he said. “When you apply with the college to register for the program, you’ll receive an email with a list of all the required paperwork. Before you can take the course, we need a copy of a drug screen and physical, a three-year driving record, a GED or high school diploma, and a social security card or valid driver’s license.”

Stafford said Port Arthur residents who begin the registration process will be sent a one-page financial questionnaire that must be returned to the school if the residents want to apply for one of the EDC grants.

The LSC-PA CDL course is scheduled for Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 5:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m., beginning June 16.

For a course application, click the “Workforce Training” banner at www.lamarpa.edu.

Email: chelsea.henderson@panews.com
Twitter: @crhenderson90