Larry Fairclo spends his weeks teaching teenagers how to operate vehicles safely, but most are unaware that he has earned a national Teacher Excellence Award.
Fairclo was selected by his peers for the distinction after years on the road. He is the owner of Diamond F Driving School in The Dalles, a business he started in 2010.
“I feel pretty humble because I work with so many people who are fantastic,” he said of the award, presented to him by The National Road Safety Foundation.
The nonprofit group creates driver safety education materials and makes them available at no cost to teachers and schools, police, traffic safety advocates and youth organizations.
The award comes with a cash stipend and was presented in July at the national conference of the American Driver & Traffic Safety Education Association (ADTSEA) in Sacramento, Calif. The award is named in memory of Dr. Francis Kenel, a traffic safety engineer, former director of the AAA, author of driver ed teacher training materials and mentor to countless driver education instructors.
In addition to Fairclo, three other teachers were honored.
“The teachers selected by their peers as the best of the best demonstrate creativity and enthusiasm in the lifesaving work they do,” said David Reich, public relations director of the foundation and a member of the ADTSEA board of directors.
“Driving instructors are a dedicated group whose mission is to save lives and prevent needless tragedy by helping young people learn how to drive safely and responsibly,” Reich added. “For many, it is a calling more than it is a job.”
Fairclo said he became a drivers ed teacher 36 years ago, but “not by my own choice.” He was hired to lead physical education classes at a high school that only had 45 students, and there was no one to give driving instruction.
“The principal assigned it to the new guy,” he recalled.
When he moved to another school, the drivers ed program had been cut due to tight budgets. Fairclo became motivated by traffic safety courses he had taken from the Oregon Department of Transportation to develop partnerships with local businesses and the police to provide resources.
His classes include taking students for a visit to the regional jail to see how DUI offenders are treated.
He also coordinates a community awareness project on distracted driving, bringing in partners, such as city councils, police, fire departments, principals, teachers and former students.
Earlier this year, Fairclo launched a campaign to focus attention on the dangers of distracted driving after the death of a family friend.
He entered a wrecked vehicle that was towed by a trailer in the Northwest Cherry Festival Parade: Around it posters displayed texts seen by people who were killed reading them while driving.
Fairclo also enlisted help from other community members to pass out 650 flyers provided by ODOT.
“The impact Larry has on his students is testimony to how an outstanding educator can produce real learning through skillful teaching,” said Andrew Hughes, a math teacher at The Dalles High School whose son was taught to drive by Fairclo.
“Larry communicates and demonstrates the skills and knowledge of driving in a manner that makes all his students feel successful.”
Fairclo teaches four classes a year, one for each season.
“My job is to try to give them some tools,” he said.
For more information on Diamond F, call Fairclo at 541-993-2488, access diamondfdrivingschool.com or visit its Facebook page.