Alaska teachers include Iditarod in classroom curriculum
Teachers across the country, and in Alaska, are using the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race as a tool to teach tenacity and geography.
As Iditarod mushers and dogs teams make their way to Nome, students in Kristin O'Connor's second-grade class at Machetanz Elementary School in Wasilla are following along every step of the way.
"They are going to keep track of their musher along the trail, and at the end when we have a final musher come in, whoever wins gets a king-size candy bar," O'Connor explained.
Lazar Tokalsch, a student in O'Connor's class has already identified his favorite musher: Libby Riddles.
"Because she was the first woman ever to win a mushing race," Tokalsch noted, citing Riddles historic victory in the 1985 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race.
Her win was followed by Susan Butcher's three-peat in 1985–1988, along with a fourth win in 1990.
Riddles isn't running this year, but Tokalsch and his classmates are learning more about those that are — learning about where each musher is from and tracking them along the trail.
O'Connor says using the race as a lesson plan helps initiate a conversation in the classroom about the power of dedication and team work.
"I have a little saying right here, and it's advice from a sled dog," O'Connor said, pointing to a sign posted outside of her classroom door. "Work as a team, pull your weight, love what you do, be warm-hearted, keep moving forward, and howl with your friends, and mush on."
Students in O'Connor's class call themselves "the huskies" year-round.
As Iditarod dogs work together to finish the thousand-mile race, O'Connor hopes her students can work together to help each other succeed in the classroom.
"Mostly what we're talking about is perseverance," O'Connor said. "How are the mushers able to go on without sleep and take good care of their dogs?"
Besides the king-sized candy bar, O'Connor says she'll also award a red lollipop to the student whose musher finishes in last place, to symbolize the Red Lantern Award. Last year's award went to Cindy Abbott, who says this year is her last Iditarod.
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