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Truckers sharing wisdom: Students gaining insight

PRESCOTT, Ont. - What better way for truckers to share the experience of their journeys on the open road and to impart the lessons learned, than to mentor school children.Some companies and organizati...

PRESCOTT, Ont. – What better way for truckers to share the experience of their journeys on the open road and to impart the lessons learned, than to mentor school children.

Some companies and organizations recognize this and aim to merge both worlds. Trucker Buddy International, for example, is a non-profit organization that combines the wisdom and knowledge of truck drivers and the students’ enthusiasm and willingness to learn to enhance their education by providing a conduit to the outside world.

Ellen Voie, executive director of Trucker Buddy International, says the program is beneficial for both the children and the drivers.

“It allows the drivers to look at their job a little differently, they look for things they can send to the kids, and the kids just love it. It gives them someone real to write to and they think of the drivers as friends,” says Voie.

The Trucker Buddy program has been running for about 10 years and currently has 4,400 schools and 4,000 drivers from all over the world involved. Seventy-three drivers and 13 schools in Canada are participating as Trucker Buddy partners.

After going through background checks and interviews, drivers are paired with a teacher and guidelines are issued to both the driver and the school.

Voie asks the drivers who participate to send a postcard from their routes every week or two so the kids can trace their travels on a map.

They are also required to teach them a little bit, through letters, about the trucking industry and pop by for a visit when they are able to do so.

However, says Voie, many of the drivers go far beyond their call of duty for these children.

“Some of the drivers send the kids rocks and tumble weeds and little things from different parts of the country, in order to help them learn their social studies and geography lessons,” says Voie.

Peter and Betty Born, a driver team based in Dunnville, Ont., have been part of the program for four years and were recently awarded a Trucker Buddy of the Month award at the Mid-America Trucking Show in Louisville, Ky.

According to the Borns, the program allows drivers to help change the public’s image of the industry.

“We are hoping that as we teach the kids about safety and discuss our careers with them, they will take that home to their parents,” says Peter, “the idea is for them to encourage their parents to observe safety rules and to promote the positive image of the professional driver.”

The kids look forward to the visits – the grade two teacher even allowed a small group of kids to call them on the road as a reward for doing well with their school work.

“It is amazing what a close relationship you develop over the year, they really look forward to your visits and they are enthusiastic about learning the safety lessons and listening to your stories, and we enjoy doing it too, it really is a lot of fun,” says Betty.

Part of the Trucker Buddy of the Month award included $500 to spend on the children. The Borns decided to give the class a digital camera so they could swap photos each week.

“We often e-mail them photos of the loading docks or of the different places we’ve been and they send us photos of the things they are doing in school,” says Betty. “They like it when they can share with you just as you share with them.”

Some trucking companies take a different approach to helping out the kids in their communities. For instance, Kriska Transportation in Prescott, Ont. has adopted a program called Kriska Kids.

Participating Kriska drivers visit Prescott area elementary schools to help create a greater awareness of the trucking industry and to promote a positive image of the trade, as well as to get involved with the community and of course to help the kids learn, says Shelley Donnelly, billing supervisor and Kriska Kids co-ordinator for Kriska Transportation.

The program has been running for over four years and driver Rock Allen has been visiting Boundary Street Public School since the beginning of the program.

“I love it,” says Allen, “I’ve been driving with Kriska for 10 years and I think I will stop driving before I stop visiting the school.”

When Allen first started visiting Boundary Street school, he had 16 kids to visit, he now has 76 and he spends almost every Friday with them.

He says the program is good for the school because it is someone who is showing an interest in the kids.

“He really takes an interest in what the kids are doing,” says Jillian Wainwright, a grade five and six teacher at the school. “He is so dedicated and he is able to give the kids one-on-one attention too, which is really good for them.”

Wainwright teaches French immersion classes and when Kriska approached the school with the Kriska Kids proposal, she wanted a French-speaking driver to give the students a chance to speak French with someone other than herself, she says.

“They are thrilled when he comes in and I think because he is so positive and takes the time to come in and visit with them, they, in turn, are interested and want to learn French,” Wainwright says.

Donnelly says another part of the Kriska Kids program was to have the whole Boundary Street School visit Kriska headquarters for a tour and barbeque.

“We had tractor-trailer reefers set up so the kids could get in them and see things from a driver’s perspective,” says Donnelly, “they really enjoyed it.”

Donnelly says the program really does help to create a positive image for the trucking industry.

“I think programs like these encourage kids to look into careers in the transportation industry,” says Donnelly, “but more importantly, I think they teach them to have more respect for the industry and for the people in it.”

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