Logging on to Learning

Harvey and Karen Zander’s dedication to volunteerism recently won them a brand-new International semi-tractor, but they both say their real reward is the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of a group of fourth-graders in their home state of Minnesota.

“We feel so good when we leave the classroom. We talk about it for days afterward,” Harvey says. “Those kids grab a hold of your heart and don’t let go.”

For four years, the truck driving couple has been sharing their knowledge of life on the road with the fourth-grade class at Sorteberg Community School in Coon Rapids, Minn. Over the years, the Zanders and their truck Icy Blu have become somewhat of a legend at the elementary school. “We’re totally different from what they’re used to,” Karen says. “They see the trucks going down the road, but they really don’t know the people in them.”

The Zanders’ newsletter highlights a year of happenings and informational material.

As a part of the Trucker Buddy program, the couple visits the class five to six times a year, each time with a new lesson or activity for the students. Trucker Buddy is a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping educate and mentor schoolchildren via a pen-pal relationship between professional truck drivers and children in grades 2-8. In the Zanders’ first visit of the year, they teach the children about blind spots around a truck, and let them explore the inside of Icy Blu and sit in the driver’s seat.

The remaining visits occur around holidays, and Karen shares a holiday-themed arts-and-crafts activity with the class. With her help, the children have created toy soldiers, Halloween spiders and snowflake coasters, but perhaps one of the most interesting creations has been the students’ log books.

“At the beginning of the year we had them all choose a handle,” Karen says. “Then we took it one step further and gave them the challenge of creating a log book. Harvey has to account for his time day in and day out, and we thought this would also be a good way for them to learn a little math.” The Zanders awarded the creators of the “best kept” log books a scooter and a scrapbook-making kit, but the prizes were not a rare treat for the class, as the Zanders often arrive at Sorteberg bearing gifts. “Karen always finds different things from vendors and many companies are willing to donate 30 of anything – pens, pencils, notepads – the kids always love it,” Harvey says.

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Harvey and Karen Zander pass along safety tips to high school driver’s education classes.

The young children’s appreciation is an inspiration to the Zanders, who also lecture to driver’s education classes in the area. The Zanders offer the teenage drivers safety tips about being on the road, and let the high school students take a look inside the cab of their rig and inside Icy Blu’s sparkling engine compartment.

The engine that the students peer at is a 500-horsepower Detroit Diesel unit. In the winter-themed rig’s cab, the students find a microwave, refrigerator, sink, satellite TV, VCR, Alpine stereo system and custom-built cabinets with custom wood accents.

Besides sharing their time and their truck with classrooms full of students, the truckers/volunteers also spend time recruiting fellow drivers to participate in the Trucker Buddy program. “I tell other drivers that it doesn’t take much of your time,” Harvey says. “And I promise if they visit the classroom once, they’ll keep going back.”

Harvey and Karen may have kept going back to the classroom because they enjoy the children’s contagious smiles and enthusiasm, but they have another reason for returning year after year. “What we’re doing is also an image thing,” Karen says. “The kids learn about us and get to know us, and then they’ll pass on that knowledge to their parents.”

For more than two decades, the Zanders’ profession has led them across the country delivering goods and services. Now as Trucker Buddy volunteers, their hearts have led them into the classroom and into the lives of children with the hopes of leaving them some simple messages. “We hope they’ve learned a bit about trucks and the trucking industry, and will always smile and wave when they see a trucker,” Karen says. “Remember, if you got it, a trucker brought it.”

For the past month, Harvey has been serving as the head driver for Overdrive magazine’s 40th Anniversary Voice of the American Trucker Tour. The tour is making its way from California to the Great American Trucking Show in Dallas to be held Sept. 7-9.