For today’s Q&A with a local business seeking to navigate the COVID-19 emergency, we hear from Steve Mochel, owner of Fresh Green Light driving school on Cherry Street. The business marked one year this week. Here’s our exchange.
New Canaanite: Steve you were in an uncertain situation with respect to whether or how you’d be able to operate. Give us an update on your situation.
Steve Mochel: As a business that primarily deals with high school students, we were deeply affected by the state’s order to shut down schools to April 20, because that essentially shut down our business. And not only the classroom lessons but the in-car diving lessons, which we really deemed was too unsafe to do with the close proximity of the students and instructors. Another factor was that the Department of Motor Vehicles canceled indefinitely all road tests. So those are off the calendar and we, like other driving schools, do our driving tests at our locations. We do anywhere from eight to 10 road tests per month at our locations. So that all shut down.
But then you got some news last week. What was it?
So one of the things we did when schools started closing was immediately reach out to the DMV to see if they would allow us to do online classroom teaching. Initially we were told no. And then last week, through the lobbying efforts of our customers, state representatives and also other driving schools, like Marie Trant from Lewis School of Driving, we were able to successfully get the Department of Motor Vehicles to allow us to do online classroom teaching for our students.
And the online classes launched Monday. It’s early—what if anything can you tell us about how enrollment going?
Our first day of enrollment we opened up 14 classes that filled to capacity in 20 minutes. That is 40 people per class.
So the demand was there.
We immediately added another set of classes, so right now we are offering four sets of classes a day and we will be doubling that for next week. We are doing these classes for existing students and for new students.
Tell me about your staff.
The positive effect of these online classes is we have been able to bring back several of our teachers to teach classes and they can do it online. They can do it from their homes.
Just to be clear, Fresh Green Light is not taking driving students from zero to licensed through e-learning. The in-car requirement remains in place.
That is exactly correct. What this is allowing is students can take their classes online. We use Zoom webinars. The instructor is live, leading class for two hours and at the end distributes a quiz that students take and parents sign and send back to us. It’s all digital.
So how is the in-car component done at this time, if at all?
It’s not. Right now, the in-car lessons, like road tests, are suspended indefinitely for us. Students are required to do 40 hours of practice driving before they go to road test. The Department of Motor Vehicles actually recommends 100 hours. Through a normal driver’s program, students do eight hours of driving lessons, so 80% of the burden is on parents for these hours in any case.
What are you hearing from families during this first week of offering classes online?
One of the challenges that students in our community have is that they are very scheduled and very busy with activities when school is in sessions, with sports and theater and clubs. With tutoring. So now that all of those are on hold, it is giving a great opportunity to students to take advantage of that time at home to complete these classes very easily. And to be honest, we are hearing from parents great to have it’s another learning activity that they can do at home right now.
This conversation is actually happening right at the one-year mark for Fresh Green Light in New Canaan. Tell me about how it’s gone here, apart from these past few weeks of COVID-19-related restrictions.
The reception in New Canaan has been really wonderful. Enrollment has surpassed our expectations. The community has been very welcoming.
What’s your message for clients?
We respect and 100% support all guidelines and the message of staying home and isolated. We also have hard from parents that they have taken advantage of this time to do some practice driving with their students, heading out from their own driveways and going directly back home.