For a few weeks in March, as part of their class project, third graders at Benjamin Franklin Elementary School intently followed Alaska’s world-renowned Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race.
Teachers, Lindsay Crowley, Laura Glomb, and Erin St. John each had their students read a poem about four-time Iditarod winner, Susan Butcher. The students also read Butcher’s biography, written by her husband, and “Balto and the Great Race,” which is about the event’s amazing origins.
In 1925, a diphtheria outbreak had ravaged Nome. In a last-ditch effort to save the lives of their citizens, Alaskan officials decided to use sled dogs to deliver life-saving serums in some very remote places. The effort was so successful that in 1973, to commemorate the amazing achievement, and to test the best mushers in Alaska, the modern-day Iditarod was born and they have been running it each year since.
The annual long-distance sled dog
race is usually run in early March from Anchorage
, entirely within the US state of Alaska
and a team of 14 dogs, of which at least 5 must be on the towline at the finish line, cover the distance in 8–15 days or more. Teams generally race through blizzards
conditions, sub-zero temperatures, and gale-force winds which can cause the wind chill
to reach -100 °F (-73 °C).
Due to the pandemic, there were no spectators at this year’s race, which was shortened and for the first time in the race’s 49-year history, the finish line was not in Nome.
In addition to the Language Arts components, Franklin students also explored resources from the park rangers at Denali National Park, including a webinar with a park ranger. The students also watched historical videos about the race and watched real-time race reports.
To help their students maintain interest in the event, the teachers had both their in-person and full-remote learning students select a musher to track throughout the race. Each day, students would check on the website and record which checkpoints their musher had made it to that day. They would then record the date and time, as well as the number of dogs their musher utilized in the race. Students would then move a card with their musher's name on it along with the checkpoints that the teachers had posted in their respective classrooms.
This year’s winner was Dallas Seavey, who captured his record-tying fifth Iditarod championship. However, the real star of this year’s event may have been Sable, a sled dog on Paige Drobny’s 20th place team, who remarkably just completed her 15th 1,000-mile race.