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Class Of '17: Ricky Rijos Is On The Road To Getting His Learner's Permit

For decades, it’s been a rite of passage for American teens. Now it’s Ricky Rijos’ turn. The Flower Mound freshman is learning to drive.

Ricky is a member of KERA'sClass of '17, a group of North Texas kids we’re following from eighth grade through graduation.

“OK," says driving class instructor Debra Routh to her class of teens. "You’re supposed to average one wreck every 10 years, so some of you all are already behind. Hopefully, you won’t catch up fast.”

Welcome to One-Way Driving School, a private drivers' education program in Lewisville. Routh has been doing this for more than three decades. She’s just asked her 24 young students if they’ve ever been passengers in a car wreck. A few raise their hands.

“And then, he, like, stopped,” one student said. “And like said he was sorry and tried to help us, and he called the cops on his own.”

Ricky, who's 16, sits quietly attentive near the front of the room. To Routh, he’s not just another anonymous kid among the dozens she teaches every week.

“He is special because he has the same birthdate as me,” Routh says. “We’re both born on Jan. 4."

Routh pulls Ricky’s test score from the class.

“Pretty conscientious because I remember teasing him about his birthday when I got his paperwork," Routh said. "Yep [he] made 100 on one of them so that’s why I remember it.  No problems at all.” 

Ricky says that’s pretty much been his experience in school so far – no problems. And not just at drivers' education, but his first year at Flower Mound High. The sprawling brick and concrete campus is huge compared to middle school.

But Ricky wasn't intimidated.

“Wasn’t that different,” Ricky says. “I don't know. Nothing, because I’ve seen it before.”    

Ricky says the only real difference in high school is the difficulty of some subjects. And homework.

“It’s kind of harder because it’s not middle-school anymore; [there's] homework every night,” he says. “Math is a couple hours. But then, like biology or something, that’s not as long, and I can’t do stuff after because it’s already like late at night.”   

The teenager says he’s had no problems making friends or pursuing his basketball passion. He played guard on the freshman team and keeps working on his game. He says his coach likes him, he likes the coach, and his grades are good, too.

“One was an A,” Ricky says, “and the other, biology, was like an 86. But since it’s like pre-AP, you put the multiplier in for your GPA, and it makes it higher.”

It seems Ricky’s got everything under control.

But he sounds less than excited about driving.

"When I talk to everyone about it, they’re like 'it’s just a hassle, you have to drive everywhere,'" he said. "I’m kind of eager, but then I guess I won’t be, once I get it.”

That attitude’s not surprising to Ricky’s driving instructor, who blames technology for kids’ changing priorities.

“They can text each other,” Routh says.  “They can access somebody on the phone in three seconds. So they don’t have to drive to see them.  They don’t hook up with all the other high schools in town. And that’s what’s changed, the computer, the easy access to who you want to talk to.”

Ricky was busy texting as we sat in the Lifetime gym near his school. He took his written road test last week, and his dad says he passed with flying colors. Next up: his driver’s permit. The learner’s license lets him get behind the wheel, which he hasn’t done yet at driver’s school. It’ll let him practice driving as long as there’s a licensed driver 21 or older in the other front seat.

Bill Zeeble has been a full-time reporter at KERA since 1992, covering everything from medicine to the Mavericks and education to environmental issues.