While students in sixth-grade teacher Beverly Helm's Social Studies classes can't get behind the wheel just yet, they've been able to cruise the strip of automotive history as part of the second annual Driving Through the Decades initiative.
Driving Through the Decades, the brainchild of Helm and local car enthusiast Tom Spicer, links students with car owners from local car clubs Low & Slow and East Alabama Old Car Club.
"I’ve known Beverly for years and years and we were chatting, and Beverly came up with the idea — let’s do something at the school," said Spicer, who is a member of both car clubs. "I noticed when I became a member years ago that a lot of people were seasoned seniors like myself. And I kept thinking why do we not have more youth involved in the restoration and preserving of the older vehicles.
"We’re really just trying to turn these kids on to taking these cars over when we’re gone and not letting them end up as rust buckets in junkyards and smashed."
The show featured a range of cars, from a 1923 Ford T-Bucket and Spicer's 1931 Chevrolet Panel pickup to a 1957 Ford Thunderbird and a 1972 Corvette Stingray, among other classics.
Students in Helm's classes learned about the classic cars, the history of those periods and the lengths the owners went to restore and maintain their rides.
"One gentleman has his pictures, and so kids can see the rust buckets, as Tom called them, that they found on the side of the road. And then he shows them the steps of the restoration, and it’s amazing, and they’re just fascinated," said Helm. "You see everyone dressed up in different decades, so the kids have enjoyed getting into that. It made them think about the past, think about the different time periods. And by even choosing the clothing, they had to go back and do a little research."
Sixth-grader Jaden Wilcox hosted a 1966 Chevy throughout the day as a steady stream of students poured out of Drake Middle School to see and learn about the classic cars.
"It was kind of nice to know how he restored it, the pictures of him," said Wilcox of learning about the car and its owner's efforts. "It was awesome to learn the different things that they did, how long it took them to put the cars together."
Fellow sixth-grader Ky Moss hosted a 1990s-era Corvette and thought the event was "really cool because not a lot of kids get to do this."
"It’s been really fun because I really love history, and just taking a look at all the old cars, it’s just a good time," he said.
Sixth-grader Ellie Warnock also got in on the fun, informing students throughout the day about a 1973 Lincoln Continental.
"It’s really fun because we’re used to seeing newer cars since we’re in the 2000s, so it’s really cool to learn about how they work because we’re so used to automatic things," she said.
The event was also a good time for the car owners, who not only got to tell students about the history of their cars but also hang out with fellow enthusiasts of classic cars.
"It’s fun talking about what these cars are like and how the cars have changed. The older cars, visually, have a lot more personality than what you see in the models today," said Douglas Bendinger, who brought his 1961 Austin Healey Sprite, which had been in his family since his parents bought it new. "It’s very rewarding to show the kids the history of automobiles."
Helm said an added bonus is that the show is a great educational tool to use toward the end of the school year.
"If you look, you can see that everybody’s engaged. It’s an interactive environment, so it is much better for all types of learners because we have such different levels of learners," she said.