Herman Cruse is more than just a school bus driver.
Cruse is not a reading teacher or a librarian, but that has not stopped him from helping the students he drives to Middle Township Elementary School, in Middle Township, New Jersey, from learning how to read.
Called Mr. Herman by kids, Cruse volunteers his time between routes as a reading tutor. He says his efforts were born as a way to lend a hand when he wasn’t working.
“It started as a means of killing time until dismissal,” he told Jenna Bush Hager in a story that aired March 2 on the 3rd hour of TODAY.
“I overheard a student interacting with his teacher about a reading assignment, and that he didn’t get it done. I said, ‘You know what? I can help him.’ He just was exuberant.”
“It started with one, and then it just got contagious,” he added.
His endeavor began two years ago and, since then, his assistance has only spawned more interest. He meets one on one three days a week for several hours with kindergartners, first graders and second graders in a corner of the school, with his popular program dubbed “Mr. Herman’s Kids.”
“When Mr. Herman comes to my class, I smile,” one boy named David said.
“He is my best friend ever,” a girl named Khylee said.
Cruse, who has been driving a bus for more than three decades, is the father of five children of his own. He said he wants to share his love of reading with this younger generation while showering his own wisdom onto them.
“I vividly remember when I was their age my mother bought a World Book Encyclopedia,” he said. “And I read every book, A to Z. I was literally a voracious reader and it just expands your mind. And I just part that gift to the kids.”
“As a father of five myself, I impart my parental skills upon them. I give them the love, the support, the nurturing, as a father, to them. I’m like a big brother, I’m like a dad, I’m like a pop-pop, a grandfather,” he added.
Cruse also loves seeing a child discover the joy of reading.
“It’s like unlocking a door,” he said. “I can see the lights on in their eyes.”
Since Cruse has given so much to the school and the kids, they decided to give something back to him. While thinking he was getting set to go to his bus for dismissal, he was stunned to find a throng of students waiting outside the school cheering to thank him for his work.
“I don’t know what to say,” he told Jenna while fighting back tears.
Jenna then presented him with a frame that says “Mr. Herman’s Kids Corner,” to give him an official area in the school to read.
Jenna kicked it up another notch when she revealed that Scholastic had donated 1,000 books to the school in his honor, sending the student body into a frenzy.
For Cruse, there is joy in working with the children as they develop reading skills.
“I love them. I love the kids,” he said.