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.”