Cassidy Ryder executed a picture-perfect parking job, then things went awry.
With her pink-polished fingers clutching the wheel at the textbook 10-and-2 position, the Nature Coast Technical High School sophomore eased the white Ford sedan between two cones in the school's back parking lot, drawing praise from driver's education instructor Vic Cervizzi.
But when Cervizzi asked Ryder to back out of the spot, she forgot to shift into reverse before tapping the gas pedal. The car lurched forward, off the pavement and partway down a grassy embankment.
Despite the close call, Cervizzi's trademark calm, professorial tone didn't change.
"If you're going to make mistakes when you're doing this stuff, this is where you want to do it," Cervizzi told her. "You'll get it."
"Now let's go around and do it again."
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Ryder is one of about 46 students taking advantage of the Hernando County school district's new after-school driver's education course.
For years, Hernando's high school students could take driver's ed during the school day as a half-credit elective for a $25 lab fee. Then the School Board, stuck between an ever-tightening budget and mandates to meet stricter class size limitations in core subjects, agreed earlier this year to allow high schools to stop offering the course.
The move disappointed many students and their families.
By the end of last school year, six of the dozen sections of driver's education that Springstead High planned to offer this school year were already full, so administrators had to tell students to find something else for that spot in their schedules. At Nature Coast, Cervizzi taught five to six driver's ed classes each day, which equaled about 240 students over the course of a school year.
"I was a bit upset," said Taylor Shreiber, a 15-year-old sophomore at Central High.
Shreiber hoped to soon be rolling down the road in a 1992 turquoise Geo Prizm, a gift for her 16th birthday. She is on the hook, though, for half of the monthly insurance bill. Many insurance companies offer a discount for attending a driver's education course, but private driving schools can charge around $300.
So Shreiber jumped at the district's new 12-week course, offered through the community education program, even though the fee is $100 and students do not receive academic credit. The class, which meets once a week for three hours, is open to students ages 19 and younger who are enrolled in a district school, private school, eSchool, Florida Virtual School or who are homeschooled.
Registration initially lagged, apparently because few parents knew the course was being offered. That could have killed the class because the district needed 24 students to cover the costs. Officials extended registration, the program was publicized in a newspaper story, and the two sections filled up.
To get a learner's permit, Florida residents must be at least 15 years old and pass an online exam. The course prepares students for the exam if they haven't already taken it.
Cervizzi then provides each student with at least six hours of driving time, first in a parking lot and then on the road while a paraprofessional stays with the rest of the class. As a state-certified instructor, Cervizzi can also administer a road test. A student who passes can present the results at a Department of Motor Vehicles office and receive a driver's license.
For Cervizzi, who has taught driver's education for 42 years, 20 of them in Hernando County, an after-school course is better than nothing — especially since the district recently used grant money to pay for textbooks, workbooks, 10 driving simulators and four 2010 Ford Fusions.
"Hopefully, when things get better economy-wise, they'll consider putting it back during day school," he said.
That might be a possibility at some point, but the financial picture isn't expected to brighten anytime soon, superintendent Bryan Blavatt said. The district will offer the course again next semester if enough students register.
"We want to continue to provide this service to the community because there's no question driver's education has a benefit," Blavatt said. "We just can't do it within the curricular day and do it cost-effectively.
Ryder, the Nature Coast sophomore, said her mother wasn't thrilled about paying four times the original lab fee, but still felt it was worthwhile. It also would cut down on the amount of time Ryder spends behind the wheel of her mother's Chevy Trailblazer.
"She'll, like, flip out when I'm driving," she said.
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At about 4:15 one recent Monday afternoon, as the Nature Coast girls soccer team ran drills on a nearby field, Katrina Cleinman dropped her son, Jordan, at the curb in front of the driver's education classroom.
Cleinman said she took driver's ed as a teen and so did her husband. The $100 cost to enroll Jordan, a Nature Coast sophomore, is minimal compared to the savings the family hopes to get on its auto insurance policy. Then there is the intangible peace-of-mind benefit.
"It's kind of scary as a parent to get in a car with your child, whereas Mr. Cervizzi has years of experience," she said. "Plus, the driver ed car has that safety brake. My car does not."
Riding along with Cervizzi during an in-car lesson transports a passenger back to a time when every move behind the wheel is a conscious and often nerve-wracking one.
Before students even turn the key, Cervizzi has them go through a four-point check: lock the doors, adjust the seat, fine-tune the mirrors, put on the safety belt and make sure passengers do the same.
"You are responsible for the health, safety and welfare of everyone in the vehicle," Cervizzi tells students.
During a recent lesson, he directed 17-year-old Carter Bolesta to back out of a parking spot, waiting until the car's side mirrors slid past the rear bumper of the adjacent car before turning the wheel.
"You do not turn your head to look out the front window for anything until you've come to a complete stop," he said. "You never know what will pop up behind you."
Bolesta, a Nature Coast senior, had just come from wrestling practice to attend the course, a mandate by his mother.
"She doesn't have enough time, plus she doesn't want me to drive her car because it's her favorite thing," Bolesta said of Mom's Mini Cooper.
Cervizzi acknowledges he's strict, but said he has attended too many funerals for youngsters killed in auto accidents to be any other way. In a time when text messaging reigns supreme, the stakes are even higher, he said.
"Maturity, responsibility and accountability. They have to demonstrate those before I give them a (DMV) waiver," Cervizzi said.
Jordan Cleinman praised Cervizzi as an instructor.
"Very smooth, very calm," he said.
For Cleinman, though, the slow pace can be painful. He avidly follows drifting, a type of racing where drivers in super-tuned cars fishtail their way around the course.
Asked where he might drive himself when he gets license, Cleinman's answer doesn't not surprise. "I'd like to go to Orlando to the Central Florida Racing Complex," he said. "That's my dream, to be a drifter."