Community Columns

Patterson High truck driving course empowers teen job seekers

As a teacher, what do you say to a parent who thanks you for saving their son?

I’m telling you from experience, it will leave you speechless.

Javier Diaz was a high school senior. Like many his age, he felt lost. He was on a path of self-destruction because he felt unappreciated, detached and without purpose. High schools do a great job in recognizing those who fit in. Athletes, honor roll students, those in the performing arts are showered with awards and praise. But for the marginalized kids, lower test scores and grades form their school identity. Not surprisingly, those who fail are labeled as failures and often find great success in their ability to fail.

That was Javier.

Not every kid is going to attend a four-year college, nor should we expect them to. Everyone from parents to principals, teachers to future employers need to stop making young adults who clearly aren’t on the college path feel less worthy and instead focus on providing them opportunities to forge happy, meaningful careers. As a high school teacher, I see kids from all walks of life. Some of them find their way to college, but for many, fighting their way out of the vicious circle they were born into will prove a bigger challenge than any class work assigned in school.

That’s why I kickstarted a truck driving program at Patterson High School. Our city is a distribution center mecca for the likes of Amazon, CVS, Kohl’s and other large corporations. In what I believe is a first in the nation, our Commercial Drivers License trucking course is available for seniors. Three sections are maxed at eight students each who are given 180 hours of classroom instruction and 30 hours on one of two simulators the school has invested in.

The program was designed with a holistic approach as opposed to just teaching the basics in order to pass a DMV test. Our students participate in field trips with industry partners, meet guest speakers with high standards of professionalism, take on leadership roles, present at junior high career days, and participate and receive certification in Truckers Against Trafficking. We also implemented a program called Worklete, which teaches the basics of human movement in industry specific job functions, to reduce workplace injuries. Our goal is to make sure graduates of this program go on to long and healthy careers.

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Unfortunately, an outdated federal regulation prohibits truck drivers from crossing state lines until they’re 21. They can’t even transport goods manufactured in other states, or goods within a state whose final destination is another state. This age-based restriction makes it hard for graduates to get hired, despite high quality training and the severe shortage of drivers that this nation faces. This impacts their futures, and for many, their ability to break away from the abuse, incarceration and joblessness that plagued other generations of their families.

A bill in Washington, D.C. called the DRIVE-Safe Act (S. 569, H.R. 1374) would lift that meaningless age restriction, and tilt the scales toward a more prosperous future for newly licensed and empowered teens who graduate from our program.

Back to Javier Diaz. “Before my son took your class,” his father said. “He had no self-esteem. He had no value. He had no purpose. “

Javier deserves the chance to foray his newfound purpose and licensure into a promising, high-paying career in trucking. Our lawmakers should pass the DRIVE-Safe Act so the Javiers of the world can be hired at age 18; by the time they turn 21, they may have turned elsewhere.

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