Teachers, Truckers and Television Crews

Tom and Sandy Peters stood by quietly as the second and third grade students at Lincoln Prairie School climbed aboard their Volvo 770, followed closely by a television crew.

The couple was, after all, accustomed to seeing the youngsters at least once a year at their school in Hoffman Estates, Ill., and corresponding with them on the road. Never before, though, had they had a news crew in tow.

The Early Show on CBS captured the May visit in and aired it on June 6. Tom Peters believes the broadcast helped improve the image of trucking and truck drivers. “I think it’s good that people know we’re out here and we’re doing this,” he said.

Tom and Sandy Peters are participants in the Trucker Buddy program, which matches drivers with classroom teachers. (They were named the Trucker Buddy Driver of the Month for May.) The truckers and students write to each other weekly, and the drivers bring their truck to the school at least once a year. The program is designed to give the students additional experience in reading, writing, geography, mathematics, social studies and history. More than 4,400 trucker drivers have relationships with 4,600 classrooms, but 150 teachers remain on a waiting list.

Tom Peters said that his first appearance on television was fun, but it isn’t what keeps him working with young people. “It was exciting for us,” he said. “But we weren’t doing it for the recognition and I don’t think most of the guys who do it are looking for recognition. Most of us are family men. We have kids of our own. We can relate.”

Tracy Gajdos, who teaches the students, said the youngsters had to be prepared for the television cameras. The children learned something about following directions from the cameraman: don’t look into the camera; continue about your regular business.

“That was an education in itself,” said Gajdos, who was home on maternity leave but came back to school for the day.

Bailey Armstrong, 9, was surprised that the crew spent the whole day in his classroom but the TV segment lasted only a few minutes. But he wasn’t disappointed.

“Pretty much everyone really liked it,” he said.

Bailey said he gets a thrill every time a package arrives from the Peters.

“I’ve been with them for three years, and I think we’ve gotten a card from each of the 48 states that are attached,” he said. “They haven’t driven to Alaska. They’ve been, but they didn’t go in their truck.”

The Peters have been Gajdos’ Trucker Buddies for seven years. Gajdos and her husband have become friends with Tom and Sandy Peters, and they get together often for dinner. “It’s really been wonderful to see the impact that it has had on the students,” she said.

The students send e-mails and letters to the couple, she said. The Peters write back from wherever they are driving. They also contribute to class lessons. When Gajdos taught about rocks, the Peters sent rocks from wherever they drove.

The Peters are company drivers for Prager Storage and Van in Naperville, Ill. They have been with Prager for eight years and have been Trucker Buddies for seven years. TMI-Multimedia, corporate sponsor of the Trucker Buddy Driver of the Month, presented them with $500 to be used on the class. The students plan to buy a digital camera so they can share photos over the Internet.

“I’m amazed at what the kids know and how smart they are,” Sandy Peters said. They often make insightful references to popular culture and history, she said. They also are well traveled and talk often of where they have been and where they plan to visit, Tom Peters added.

Tom Peters believes it is important for the kids to be exposed to people who do a variety of jobs, trucking among them. “That’s how I got into it,” he said. “I used to watch the trucks go by and blow their horns and wonder where they were going.”

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