By Alan Sorensen
Fifteen truckers are expected to be road-ready in just a couple more weeks of gear crunching and load dumping at the old Kmart parking lot in east Havre.
The would-be truckers are students in a truck driver class offered as a summer course through Stone Child College at Rocky Boy. The course, taught by instructors with Sage Technical Services Truck Driver Training in Billings, provides students with a leg up in acquiring their commercial driver's licenses.
"(Stone Child) produced 18 truck drivers last year," Sage school administrator Carmella Campanian said. "This year they have 16 registered who are going to graduate the 29th (of June). It's a certified, accredited program worth five college credits."
The course takes four to five weeks to complete and all of the instruction in the truck is private, one-on-one, Campanian said. Each student has to achieve the certified required level on right-hand turns, left-hand turns, lane control, basic and advanced backing skills, speed management, space management, all rules and regulations for the commercial driver, preventative and vehicle maintenance, safe operating practices and defensive driving.
This morning, Billy Blatt and Jim Houle were working in the semi tractor trailer rigs, practicing unhooking and hooking their Kenworth and Peterbilt trucks up to full-length trailers.
Houle, who is taking time off from his regular job to take the class, said he's enjoying himself while learning the trade, in spite of the cost. "I already work and needed my CDL."
The course, when taught in Billings, costs each student $3,985. Stone Child is offering a contract course with expanded services at a cost of $3,700 per student. The additional services include the students' permit costs, urinalysis tests and state Department of Transportation physical examinations.
Another service Sage offers is job placement.
"We bring the employers right into the classroom and they hire direct," Campanian said. "That's what's really brought it into the rural area."
She added that a state of Montana examiner will come right into Havre and do all of the road tests on June 25 and 26.
Stone Child College President Steve Galbavy said this is the second consecutive year the Chippewa Cree tribal college has offered the course.
"We had real success last year getting students through the program and potential placements were really encouraging," Galbavy said. "Sage is a wonderful group. They do an awful lot for the students. They get employers in to interview them and start the placement process. It's a pretty good relationship we've established with Sage.
"We got 15 or 16 through it last year, out of 18. That's a positive. That's a pretty good number when you look at retention."
Galbavy noted that any students qualified for college are welcome to enroll at Stone Child or to take advantage of its summer programs.
"There isn't anything here that isn't open to everybody," he said. "The message I want to get out there is that we don't have a closed enrollment. We have an open enrollment. We'd be more than happy to have them participate."
Galbavy said he's uncertain about offering the Sage course in the near future.
"We don't know if we'll run a third section next year," he said. "We'll probably take a year or two off, come back and revisit it in a couple of years again."
Campanian pointed out that Stone Child made the initial contact last year, but that Havre has since become home to part of the Fort Belknap College driving course, too.
The students do their classroom instruction and have their initial contact with the big rigs at the campuses. Their road training, though, takes place in Havre.
"Part of their driving experience is that they have to go into town and they have to exhibit that they have the skill to operate those big rigs in town," Galbavy said. "And when they take their test they're going to have to exhibit that in town."
Campanian said Sage is happy to be providing training in Havre.
"We found that Havre worked very well and found it easy to be a hub," Campanian said. "Havre has been so receptive. We do run three vehicles four to five weeks."
Campanian said Sage decided to take the course on the road to benefit the state's smaller communities.
"It took all of the revenue from the little towns (when taught only in Billings)," she said. "Now the money would stay in that small town. It makes a huge difference for the town."
She said Sage plans to continue its service in those locations around the state. "As it stands now, we service Stone Child College once a year, Helena and Kalispell four times, Miles City twice a year, and Pablo six times a year, every other month."
Sage instructors, who have lodged in Havre for the past couple of weeks, will be sticking around for another month and a half or so, Campanian said.
"That team is going to be in Havre another round yet, they're doing Fort Belknap right behind it."