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Susan Notes: Just when I was despairing of ever finding any good news, here comes a school that's able to give kids time away from scambling for Accelerated Reader points, DIBELS dribble, and test prep to engage in a terrific project.

By Karen Bair

Where is Big A?

His real name is Anthony Lenzo, but Diana North's Oakdale Elementary School second-graders just use his trucker handle, "Big A."

Big A rolled into Oakdale's parking area from Atlanta on Tuesday morning in his 18-wheel tractor-trailer loaded with 31,000 pounds of glass bottles.

The kids finally got to meet Big A, their Trucker Buddy pen pal since the beginning of the school year. He sends them postcards from truck stops and they write him letters.

The kids all have their own Trucker Buddy handles, too. Karson Whitesell is "Choochoo K," B.J. Coan is "Funny B" and Regina Thomasson is "Friendly R."

Their classroom bulletin board, "Tracking Our Trucker Buddy," is emblazoned with the headline, "Where Is Big A?" They trace his routes on the map and tack up his postcards from Oklahoma, Texas, Missouri, New York, Vermont, Michigan and elsewhere, calculating how many miles he has traveled from point to point and which states he has visited.

North learned about Trucker Buddy International, a nonprofit organization of the American Trucking Association, on a chat line where teachers share ideas. Then she logged on to truckerbuddy.org and signed up.

Big A did not disappoint Tuesday. He was a hefty guy with a shiny pate wearing the Oakdale T-shirt the kids had sent him. He came bearing truck trading cards and Trucker Buddy certificates for each of the kids.

Big A writes postcards to his Oakdale Trucker Buddies at truck stops and at one point was inspired to pen a poem that begins:

"Listen my children and a story you'll hear

About driving a truck throughout the whole year . . . " The children printed his poem into a book they created. They knew his tractor was red, so they pasted paper red rectangles with black wheels into it with drawings depicting poem passages. They gave it to him Tuesday.

"This is the most special gift," he said.

They gasped when they went outside and saw his 32,000-pound tractor-trailer that can haul 80,000 pounds.

"Big A, when you get a flat tire you've got bubble trouble," said Denaishya Sanders, displaying her mastery of trucker lingo. The kids have been collecting truck books and know other trucker phrases, such as "window wash" is rain.

It wasn't long before the kids caught on to the fact that Big A likes to joke. When he opened the cab door, he looked at them and said, "What is all this stuff?" He pulled out maps, goody bags he had collected at truck stops and finally the piece de resistance, a vividly multicolored, tie-dyed T-shirt with Millis Transportation across the chest.

"I only brought one of these, so you'll have to wrestle for it," he quipped.

"Awww," they said in unison. They were on to him.

The questions were endless. "What is this?" "What's that thing?"

He fielded them all. The gas tank holds 200 gallons of fuel. Wheels can be moved to distribute weight evenly. A crank will send down legs so the tractor can move away from the trailer.

They climbed two at a time into his cab and discovered another world. A bunk bed. A computer. Pencil holders attached to the window.

"We saw the ornaments we made for him and the magnet we gave him and the picture of our class," Karson said of the cab. And, most important, "He's wearing our T-shirt."

Just when the kids thought they'd seen it all, he opened the hood to wow them with a 500-horsepower engine.

"They've learned about writing for a purpose, geography and math," North said, "and I think it's good for children to see people other than parents and teachers take an interest in their education."

Twenty second-graders watched expectantly as Big A pulled his rig out of the parking lot en route to a delivery in Eden, N.C.

Then it happened. He tooted his horn.

They waved in unison and shouted "bye."

The only one who seemed to have more fun than the kids was Big A.

He promised he'd be back.


— Karen Bair
The Herald


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