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Iditarod Comes to Life as Students Meet Sled Dogs, Cheer on Mushers

Pulled by lead dog Storm and a team of six other Siberian Huskies, Endeavor Elementary second grader Malachi Geemes rode atop a dog sled and whizzed by his classmates.

“Fun and fast,” was how Malachi described his turn as a musher.

On a sunny day with snow piled all around, students met the friendly dogs brought to visit by Dan Anderson, owner of Tun-Dra Kennels, in Nunica.

Anderson helped bring the students’ study of the famous 1,000-mile Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race to life. The annual race extends from Anchorage to Nome, AK, with mushers often competing in far below zero temperatures.A team of huskies waits outside school

“By having this firsthand experience, something abstract comes to life for the students,” said Principal Matthew Quada.

A Siberian husky waits to meet Endeavor Elementary School studentsAnderson, once a competitive musher, quit racing 20 years ago. He said he now visits many schools to help students develop an appreciation of the great outdoors.

The cool thing about the race, he said, is that it can be tied to every subject. It can be used in teaching mapping, weather, climate measuring, researching and much more.

Students pet the dogs, Storm, King, Sable, Sansa, Sandor, Kitna and Khalissi and learned about sled dog equipment, tools used on the course, and the Iditarod Trail Song by Alaska’s Hobo Jim.

“I did, I did, I did the Iditarod Trail,” they sang.

For “March is Reading Month”, classes competed to read the most minutes, while keeping track of the Iditarod race taking place in Alaska. Each class was assigned a different musher to cheer on, and maps and other graphics hung in the hallways with information about Alaska and the race. For every 500 or 1,000 minutes read, depending on grade level, classes earned a paper dog to hang on the wall, vying for a grand prize.

Second grader Malachi Geemes gets pulled by the dogFourth grade teacher Sue Stapleton was instrumental in bringing Anderson and the sled dogs to visit.

Anderson’s father Deane Cheadle co-founded the Iditarod race in 1973 .The Iditarod Trail itself, now a National Historic Trail, had its beginnings as a mail and supply Second grader William Conley tries on musher gearroute. It was used in 1925 for sled dogs to deliver life-saving serum during a diphtheria epidemic in Nome.

As students pet the huskies, paraprofessional Linda Radermacher, who helped plan the Iditarod theme, said the dogs’ visit was a great springboard for a month devoted to a competition involving reading.

“This kind of opportunity is a once in a lifetime thing. They will always remember this,” she said.

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Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese has worked as a journalist in the Grand Rapids area since 2000. A graduate of Central Michigan University, she has written for The Grand Rapids Press, Advance Newspapers and On-the-Town Magazine. She has been covering the many exciting facets of K-12 public education for School News Network since 2013. Read Erin's full bio or email Erin.

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