By Stan Maddux
ROCKVILLE, Ind. – An Indiana high school is coming to the aid of farmers needing truck drivers, while creating job opportunities for students.
Colten Stone is the first student at Parke Heritage High School to graduate with a Class A Commercial Driver’s License obtained from the school’s new truck driving class.
Stone, who recently turned 19, said he’s already receiving offers from farmers in the area to do some of their hauling. He said truck driving companies have also reached out to him with requests to submit job applications.
Stone said he would have wanted a CDL even if the school didn’t offer the program. He would just be getting started in another truck driving course offered by another organization and not presented with employment opportunities until graduating several months later.
Stone said the program at school is also much less costly without the long-term commitment required by trucking companies that pay for the classes their future drivers need to take for obtaining their CDL’s.
“The amount of training I had to do, to me it’s worth it,” he said.
The school in Rockville began offering the course in January after receiving a grant to help fund start-up costs of the program.
Principal Bruce Patton said the idea had been kicked around a while in response to farmers in the school district expressing concern about a lack of CDL-licensed truck drivers to hire for hauling things like crops to market.
Patton said the fit seemed perfect since the community on the west side of the state is heavy into farming.
“Everybody is always needing extra help,” he said.
Students learn in the classroom first and start driving on a simulating machine before climbing into an 18-wheeler and maneuvering through cones in the parking lot of the school’s baseball field.
Patton said students also practice backing up to the loading docks of a local company that donated the use of their property for the course. Eventually, the students hit the roads to compile the amount of actual driving time required to obtain a CDL.
Patton said three other students in the first class are on track to graduate from the course sometime in August.
“Having a CDL makes you more marketable and that’s what we’re trying to do is provide more opportunity for our kids,” he said.
Right now, Stone said his focus is driving for farmers in the area until after the fall harvest. “They’re all at least wanting me for this year because they can’t find anyone,” he said.
He might become a professional truck driver after that but is leaning more toward joining his brother in being a lineman for a utility company in Alabama.
Stone said a CDL is required for the job to operate bucket trucks and other vehicles used in servicing utility lines. It’s also required to operate tree trimming vehicles if he ever decides to venture down that career path.
One advantage working in favor of Stone passing the CDL course on his first attempt was growing up on a small farm.
He came in experienced at hauling things such as hay and taking the family’s livestock to sale barns in a trailer he pulled with a Ford F-350 pick-up truck. He also operated a dump truck on the farm.
Stone said he also did a lot of work for Amish farmers by taking their livestock to other farms in the area for breeding and returning the animals once finished with breeding. “It helped a lot,” he said.
Patton said about a half dozen more students are enrolled already for the course in the fall.
He said the semi and trailer used during the first semester of the course was donated by a trucking company. Another semi and trailer were later donated to the program by another over-the-road transportation firm.
Patton said the Indiana Department of Transportation has become another resource helpful to the program.
“We’re just trying to build these partnerships with people and get our stuff going and learn as we go,” he said.