PATTERSON, Calif. — Javier Diaz went down the wrong path early in life. He used drugs, was involved in gang activity and got into trouble at school — he fit all the cliches that could be used to describe a textbook “bad boy.”
Then, one day, things changed. Diaz decided to browse through his high school’s course list of electives and found Dave Dein’s name listed as the instructor of a truck-driving course. Diaz shrugged, but signed up for the class anyway.
After all, what did he have to lose?
“It saved me,” said Diaz, now 21. “I took that class, got my CDL and now I am driving a truck. Trucking really has changed my life.”
Dein, 57, says students like Diaz are the reason he became a teacher, and why he created the truck-driving program at Patterson High School in Patterson, California, in 2017. He guides through the basics of trucking, industry news, regulations and even real-world scenarios using a simulator. He also has a real rig that students use for pre-trip checklist practice.
“We aren’t a traditional trucking school,” Dein said. “I want my students to keep a pulse on the industry — where is it going? We also work to reduce workplace injuries through exercises. We do golf cart training, where we practice backing up with a utility trailer. It’s the same concept, just on a smaller scale.”
Students can’t earn a CDL while in high school, but Dein has partnered with a local truck driving school to provide graduating seniors with that part of their training through the adult education program. The schooling comes at no cost to the students.
“Usually, when they graduate here in May, by mid-summer, they can have their CDL,” Dein said. “We also have industry partners so they can get jobs.”
Dein said that, above all, he is training his students to be well-educated, professional drivers.
“There is not just a need for people in our industry; we need well-trained, younger people,” he said.
Dein said he decided early in his teaching career to make a point of helping students like Diaz. He calls them “possibility kids.”
“I began substitute teaching after a friend suggested it,” said Dein, who began his professional career as a race car driver; then became a trucker and teacher.
“I saw a consistent theme on how the teachers were labeling kids, and it really pissed me off,” he recalled. “Their (substitute teaching) plans always had a list at the bottom that said ‘problem kids.’ I crossed that out with a red pen and wrote ‘possibility kids.’ When I was their age, I was probably on that ‘problem’ list, too.”
Diego Estalera, 17, is one of Dein’s current students. A senior at Patterson High School, Estalera said he hopes to soon follow in his dad’s footsteps and become a trucker.
But there are challenges along the way.
“Backing up is hard,” he said. “But I feel like I can train enough to progress. My dad is happy about me wanting to follow in his footsteps.”
Estalera said he doesn’t want to be a long-haul driver. Rather, he sees himself in the food delivery business, working in the Patterson area.
“I am really excited about it,” Estalera said.
Outside the classroom, Dein still drives big rigs from time to time.
In fact, this summer he took a job with one of his former employers, Morning Star Farms, to help out during a shortage of agriculture drivers in California.
Instead of keeping his hard-earned money, however, Dein invested in the future of the trucking industry. He gave the proceeds to a nonprofit, the Next Generation in Trucking Association (www.nextgentrucking.org/), that he serves as vice chairman. The association is designed to promote trucking as a positive career field for a new generation of drivers.
“I had a blast out there driving, and it made some money for a good cause, too,” Dein said. “It is something great to be back on the road. I also got to drive newer trucks with new technology on board. Those are some things I can bring back and share with my students. We are always learning something new.”
Born in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, and raised in East Texas, John Worthen returned to his home state to attend college in 1998 and decided to make his life in The Natural State. Worthen is a 20-year veteran of the journalism industry and has covered just about every topic there is. He has a passion for writing and telling stories. He has worked as a beat reporter and bureau chief for a statewide newspaper and as managing editor of a regional newspaper in Arkansas. Additionally, Worthen has been a prolific freelance journalist for two decades, and has been published in several travel magazines and on travel websites.
I enjoyed the article and agree that we need young and well trained drivers in our field.
I am also encouraged by people making positive, future altering changes in their lives.
Lastly, I’m OTR working in CA and have seen the Morning Star Tomato 🍅 trucks.
Who knows I might have seen Mr. Dein!
It is typically in this industry to find more than 80% of the owner operator have some type of felony conviction on their record that’s a very high number but it’s actually true you can sit around the peers army bases and other secure areas and watch just go on day after day owner operators aren’t able to obtain a TWIC card because of the criminal background paying people at these areas to take their truck in and get it unloaded and bring it back it’s a daily occurrence at most points in the United States you actually have guys that do nothing but make a living sitting at the port with their little sign in the car no TWIC card no problem $50 unload fee this is an industry where large corporations will hire convicted felons no matter what their conviction I know a company that is hired eight convicted felons in the past year and six of the eight are child molesters registered child molester so this is just what we need registered child molesters traveling across our country and getting paid for it the truck and industry really needs to rethink handing out CDL license to anyone that wants that that’s what most people do not realize anyone could obtain a CDL license no matter your criminal background criminal history now you may not be able to take obtain hazmat TWIC card but this does not prevent you from becoming a CDL holder and a truck driver just a short 5 years ago companies that would not even begin to be interested in some convicted felons are now hiring anyone that comes through the door let’s take Mercer one of the largest flatbed providers in the country 5 years ago they would not even begin to think about hiring someone with a felony but now the shortage of available truck drivers has force them to hire just about anyone that comes to the door the trucking industry needs to start policing itself and stop hiring these convicted felons child molesters drug smugglers gun runners and just out and out thugs but if you cannot find a job anywhere else you can always find a job in the trucking industry.
I think we need to let men or women you have a criminal record try to improve their life. If trucking is it and they keep out of trouble all
the better. I drove all my life with out a TWIC card. We had one company we loaded at in Phila. the man met us in a parking lot took us to a door . We stayed in our truck and he brought the bills to us to sign. Then we left with the load. Maybe it is different on the west coast.