From left to right: excited learner drivers Aaron, Riley (3rd from left) and Brad (right). Lisa (second from left) and Mary (fifth from left) with trainer Nikki (fourth from left), in the lobby of the VicRoads Seaford testing centre.
A tentative start
The Cire Berwick students were as sharp a counterpoint to trainer Nikki’s previous Lilydale group as could be. Students Baylun, Charlotte, Mayah, Nate, Rhys and Riley were tentative and initially worried about even entering the classroom.
“That’s ok,” trainer Nikki responded in a calm, quiet voice, “everyone is welcome, and no one is under any pressure to stay at all. The Changing Gears classroom is a safe place.”
Once students felt at ease, they relaxed and felt comfortable staying. Nate, who initially came into the classroom and formed a protective curtain over his face with his hair started to part his long fringe and peer out at Nikki and his classmates.
Mayah felt best communicating with gestures and this too was ok.
“The ways you feel comfortable communicating are really important for me to understand,” trainer Nikki explained, “you’ll learn much more feeling happy and at ease.”
Unique personalities emerge, fears are allayed
This seemed to be the case. Bit by bit the students' unique personalities came out; Balun’s need for movement as he was learning, Riley and Charlotte’s cheeky personalities, Mayah’s artistic side, Rhys’es tenacity and willingness to learn and the fact that Nate had a boat licence.
“Miss, I will turn sixteen in September,” Rhys confided.
“I applaud you coming along,” Nikki responded, “you can learn a lot in the course. And by the time September rolls around, you will be super ready for your learner permit test.”
The fact that Rhys had vision problems in one eye and had concerns about it also came to light.
To quell his fears, Nikki invited him along for Friday’s test date.
“When you come with us,” Nikki reassured him, “you can explain your concerns and get advice directly from the staff at VicRoads. You can also do their eye test to make sure you’re ok.”
What we do when our brains are full
Over the three days of the course the group worked hard. On the first day, they tackled ‘Your driving attitude,’ the foundation on which good driving is built. The second day they looked at ‘Signs and rules.’ This was a very arduous day with a lot of writing. Just before lunch, Balun got up, closing his resource book.
“My brain is full,” he admitted to trainer Nikki, “I just can’t do any more writing.”
So, for the next quarter of an hour the group played with uncontrolled intersections, Balun and Nikki moving around to illustrate different situations and how to give way in each.
Riley laid down on the floor and some teachers worried about this.
“It doesn’t matter,” Nikki explained, “as long as he can see and he’s learning, I’m not worried what position he’s in.”
ID phone tree
On the third day, Head Teacher Steve came in, “We’d really like everyone to call their parents to make sure each student is sent with their correct ID on the bus tomorrow,” he said.
Once Nikki had completed topic three, ‘Sharing the road,’ she did this. She had a short chat with each parent, letting them know how proud she was of their child and their hard work, and making sure the parents understood which ID to pack.
“Thanks so much for calling,” Riley’s mum Losa said, “I’d forgotten that I needed to get Riley’s ID together. But now I’ll be sure to have it all ready.”
Cire Head Teacher Steve thanked Nikki and the Changing Gears team.
“We really appreciate the program and what it does for our kids,” he explained.
Four different campuses represented
On the day of the learner permit test, the Cire Berwick students were joined by coordinator Karen Swankie, Aaron from the Mount Evelyn campus, Elyssa from the Yarra Junction campus, (who’d come all the way from Warburton to be there), and Brad from the Lilydale campus.
For various reasons these students had been unable to obtain their learner permit at the same time as the group they'd trained with. All three were very eager to sit their test. Karen had done an amazing job rounding up ID documents and supporting them to be there so they could.
Lisa and Mary, a very special duo
VicRoads team members Lisa and Mary welcomed the group and showed them to a special space they’d prepared right near the testing room. Mary then began processing each of the students, including doing their eye tests, with a kindness and calmness that was exemplary. She helped Rhys by doing a dry run of the eye test and reassured him he would pass the eye test and be fine to become a learner driver in September.
Riley and Charlotte went into the testing room first with VicRoads team member Lisa. Both had requested help and Lisa patiently read questions and answers when required and explained anything that the students did not understand.
Elyssa entered the testing room next, eager to get her test done and from there drama ensued!
Forty-five minutes later, Lisa emerged from the testing room to explain the situation.
“Elyssa was so nervous and I had to help her so much that Riley’s test timed out. Elyssa too did not succeed,” Lisa frowned, deeply concerned.
“Would it be ok if I work with Elyssa and she attempt the test again?” Nikki asked.
“I have to be mindful of other appointments, but if we have enough time then yes, she can try again. And I will restart Riley’s test,” Lisa replied.
With that, the heroic VicRoads team member went back into the testing room and further supported the incredibly patient Riley.
What we say to ourselves can dictate how we feel
Elyssa was in a terrible state, feeling as if she had failed, “It will be so hard to tell my mum,” she cried.
“Well let’s not do that just yet. Let’s go through some things and see if we can try again and succeed,” Nikki countered.
“But I feel so scared!” Elyssa cried.
“Do you know, the hormones in our body are exactly the same for fear as they are for excitement,” Nikki explained, “the only difference is what your mind tells you. Are you scared of the test, or are you excited to get your learner permit?”
“But what if I fail?” Elyssa whispered.
“Well that’s just a voice in your head telling you that,” Nikki reassured her, “do you know that you can actually tell that voice to shut up? You can say, ‘shut up and let me do this test!’ The trick is to focus on what you want, not what you’re scared of. So Elyssa, what do you want?”
Go out and get what you want
Elyssa looked up at Nikki, surprised, “I want to pass my learner permit test!” she replied.
Nikki smiled, “Right, well let’s do something about that and go over a few things in your resource book. Thar way, you’re all calm and prepared when they call your name again.”
So with that, Nikki and Elyssa went over important road rules and prepared for another try at the test.
After ten minutes, Riley emerged triumphant from the testing room. He had passed with flying colours!
If at first you don't succeed...
“Elyssa, would you like to try again?” Lisa asked with a smile on her face.
Nikki turned to Elyssa, “What do you want, Elyssa, what do you want?”
Elyssa smiled tentatively, “To pass my learner permit test.”
“Right,” Nikki commanded, “well then, go in there and get it.”
“You’ve got this,” Mary smiled from behind the counter.
Fifteen minutes later Elyssa emerged with a beaming Lisa. She had passed with a score of 88%!
Later it emerged that everyone had passed, all with scores in the high eighties and nineties. Nikki was so relieved and happy she bought everyone drinks and snacks from the vending machine.
Understanding makes all the difference
The group chatted happily and called their families to let them know the good news, then they posed for a photo.
Nikki invited Lisa and Mary to be part of the shot.
“Without you two, we couldn’t have done this. You’ve been absolutely amazing.”
“Well, I really understand,” Lisa explained, “I’ve had learning difficulties of my own so I know how hard it can be to go into a situation like this and try to complete a test,”
“Oh yes,” Mary agreed, “my anxiety goes through the roof in stressful situations like this. I think the kids did really well.”
And so another busload of happy new learner permit holders made their way back to Cire school and out into the world, with a sound knowledge of the road rules and how to drive safely.
A special shout out
A special shout out must go to Lisa and Mary at Seaford VicRoads, and their manager Sandra.
Without such kind, competent people supporting learner drivers, without their unique understanding of the challenges young people with learning disabilities face, it would be virtually impossible for students from schools such as Cire to obtain their learner permits.
Lisa, Mary and Sandra are a credit to VicRoads and the Seaford community.
Possibilities open up
Driving opens up so many possibilities for disadvantaged young people. Classes are supportive, students and trainers inspire each other, showing the way for young people to overcome their obstacles to driving and experience success.
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