Building Character

“Character is a journey, not a destination.” William J. Clinton

 

As young mushers evolve into seasoned veterans, they build a lot of character along the way.

barbToday our group made a visit to Iditarod Headquarters in Wasilla. While there, we were able to listen to Barbara Redington speak. Barb is the wife of Raymie Redington, son of Joe Redington, Sr. (“Father of the Iditarod”). Barb spoke to us about the Jr. Iditarod. Barb has the honor of being a board member of the Jr. Iditarod and has also run the race.

The Jr. Iditarod started in 1977. Four young men came up with the idea and spoke with Joe Redington, Sr. about it, and he loved the idea. Prior to the Jr., races for young mushers were mostly sprint races lasting 10-15 miles. These guys wanted a longer race. The Jr. Iditarod is a 175-mile trail that starts on the Knik Lake and heads out to Yentna Station. In Yentna, the halfway point, the mushers have a mandatory 10-hour stop. After their rest, they head back to Knik Lake to finish. Many of the same rules that are used in the Iditarod are used in the Jr. For instance, no outside help can be used.

Lynden, a family construction and logistics company, has sponsored the race for years. The Lynden family used to be sponsors of Susan Butcher when she was racing. They provide sponsorship in many ways from taking pictures at the race, being a M.C. at the banquet, to providing scholarships to the mushers. Last year $28,000 in scholarships were awarded. The winning mushers, Conway Seavey, came in first and won a $6000 scholarship. The rest are split amongst top finishers. The city of Wasilla also chips in money towards expenses for the race and prizes for the mushers. The race cost about $10,000-15,000. At the banquet the scholarships are awarded to top finishers. On top of that, all mushers receive some prizes. This past year $15,000-17,000 in prizes were past out. There were prizes from hamburgers to a beaver hat. Libby Riddles, first woman Iditarod winner, makes a hat each year for the first female Jr. finisher. The winner of the Jr. also receives 2 round trip tickets to Nome to the Iditarod finishers banquet to receive his/her award.

jrpicThe Jr. board is very proud of the scholarships awarded to the mushers. The scholarships cannot be exchanged for cash. The mushers must use them at any learning facility. This can be a college, vocational school, etc. One musher used the scholarship to get her pilot’s license. Barb stressed how important it is for these young kids to further their education. She is happy to be able to give these young kids this opportunity.

jrpatch1To run the Jr. Iditarod you must be between the ages of 14-17. This race does a great job of promoting punctuality among the young kids. When they get to the halfway point, they really have to manage their time well so they are able to leave when scheduled. Remember, they are not just taking care of themselves; they are taking care of 10 dogs. They also promote sportsmanship. This year the sportsmanship award was given to Kevin Harper. Kevin was in 3rd place when leaving Yentna. All of a sudden he realized there were 2 white dogs behind him. Kevin found out they were Jimmy Lanier’s dogs by looking at the tags. Kevin grabbed the dogs and did a 180 with his dog team and sled, which is tremendously difficult. He headed back towards Yentna looking for Jimmy. He found him. Turns out Jimmy’s swing dogs chewed the gangline and the lead dogs got loose. After Kevin returned the dogs, he did another 180 and headed back towards the finish. Kevin finished the race in 3rd place and was awarded the sportsmanship award for helping Jimmy out on the trail. This was such a selfless act. Knowing he was in 3rd place, competing against others, Kevin went out of his way to help a fellow competitor out. That is the great part about mushing. The integrity they have on the trail.

Many of these veterans can attest to the fact that a lot of character is built out on this 175 miles worth of trail.

Visit the Jr. Iditarod website.

The Jr. Iditarod also has a FaceBook page – Junior Iditarod

"You have 175 mile trail to complete, but you have a life of trail ahead of you." Barb Redington

“You have 175 mile of trails to complete, but you have a life of trails ahead of you.” Barb Redington

Charles’ Last Run

"It is good to have an end to journey towards; but it is the journey that matters in the end."

“It is good to have an end to journey towards; but it is the journey that matters in the end.”

 

What do mushers do with their sled dog when he/she retires? Just as they had the best life before their journey through the Iditarod, they have the best life still, but more relaxing. Our best bud here at Vern’s, Charles, retired as a sled dog on March 1, 2014.

CharlesCharles is a 10-year old Alaskan Husky. Charles was not born at the Dream a Dream Dog Farm. Vern acquired him from Jeff King. Charles has quite the sled dog resume. Charles has finished many sled dog races in the state of Alaska. What is most impressive is he has finished five Iditarod races.

Unbeknownst to Charles, this season would be his last. Charles took his last pre-race truck ride down to 4th street in Anchorage. He jumped up and down anxiously in his harness, in lead, under the starting line in Anchorage for the last time. He heard the announcer call, “5, 4, 3, 2, 1….GO,” for the last time. He charged out of the starting chute one final time. This one last run for Charles was the Ceremonial start of the 2014 Iditarod. He led Cindy Abbott, her “Iditarider”, and his best friend Vern, down 4th street around Cordova and out to the Campbell Airstrip. He was unharnessed and unhooked one last time. He took one final post-race truck ride to the kennel.

When Charles was taken out of the truck after they arrived at the kennel he was not hooked up. Instead Vern said, “You are free!” Free to roam the kennel. Free to sit on any kennel he wants. Free to sleep anywhere he wants. Free to be “King of the Kennel.” Charles just stood there. He didn’t know what to do. His journey through the Iditarod had come to an end. Nobody asked him. I think if Vern had given Charles a choice, he would continue to work as a sled dog for the rest of his life. That is how much he loves it, and how much all sled dogs love their job.

CharlesWatching Charles around the yard now that he is retired is awesome. He comes right up to us wanting love and attention. He sticks his paw out as to say, “Pet me. Love me.” So, what do we do? We pet him. We love him. He struts around that yard as if he owns the place. He sits up top of Aspen’s house like it is his. It is, of course, exactly where his house used to sit. Charles still thinks he is a working sled dog. He will forever be an extraordinary lead dog.

Charles is now a pet. Most sled dogs become musher pets when they retire. Some dogs will sell their retired dogs to select homes that will take extra good care of their special friends. All sled dogs will miss their job tremendously. But, just as humans enjoy their retirement, sled dogs will enjoy the relaxing and love and attention they receive with retirement.

Teacher turned Dog Handler

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“Life is an interesting journey, you never know where it will take you.”

My journey today was quite interesting, however, it was awesome.  This morning Terrie Hanke, author of the Eye on the Trail blog for the Iditarod, and I went to breakfast before beginning our shopping list for camp.  When we got back to Vern’s Dream a Dream Dog Farm we started helping Linda prepare sandwiches for the 9:00 tour group, no big deal.  After making sandwiches it was time to turn our attention to that shopping list….or not.  After about a minute upstairs Linda shouted up the steps, “Terrie, Erin, get out here and help harness up the dog teams!”  We looked at each other and headed down.  My thought was how in the heck am I going to do this.  I have harnessed a dog before, once.  That was exactly one year ago when Vern taught us at summer camp.  I quickly asked Terrie, “how do I do this again?”  Terrie is a seasoned veteran at harnessing dogs as she has her own sled dogs back home in Wisconsin.  She reminded me and off we went.

"Aspen, put your leg through there."

"Aspen, first put your head through here."

So, Linda, Serene, Cindy Abbott, and Terrie and I harnessed and hooked up two 16 dog teams.  Ten minutes of noise and controlled chaos was followed by complete silence and peace.  After the two teams took off, I took a deep breath and looked around and said to myself, “Wow!”  Terrie and I proceeded to high-five after a job well done.

We attempted to start that shopping list again while we waited.  As soon as the teams arrived back at the kennel we headed back down to water the dogs.  After earning their water and a fish snack, it was time to unhook and unharness the teams and take them back to their kennel.  Not quite as crazy, but this time muddy and wet.  During the dog ride the dogs splash through a mud pit.

Remember that shopping list?  We finally got to it.

This day provided me with a thrilling adventure and a great deal of thought.  So many different journeys taking place.  Serene, Vern’s handler, to her this is just a normal day.  She is working for Vern during the summer handling sled dogs.  Linda, Vern’s employee, again, to her this is just another day setting up and taking down for a tour.  The dogs, this is their summer Iditarod training schedule.  Cindy Abbott, she is here to sign up for the 2015 Iditarod and this is normal to her too.  For Terrie and me, this was an awesome new experience.

Animal Heroes Everywhere

Alaska races sled dogs.

In Maryland we race horses.

Alaska has stories about heroic dogs.

We have stories about heroic horses.

My school and I wanted to send greetings to the schools along the trail as a way to kind of let our schools meet each other and to show a connection between schools that are so far apart, and yet have so many commonalities.

My boys and I have been talking all year about the similarities and differences between Alaska and Maryland.  While there are obviously many, many differences, we did find several similarities.  Alaskans race sled dogs. There are different styles of racing dogs – sprint, marathon, etc.  There are many sled dog races throughout the state, the biggest one obviously being the Iditarod.  Here in Maryland, we race horses.  There are different styles of racing horses – speed, agility, steeplechase, sulky, etc.  There are many tracks and many races in Maryland, the biggest being the Preakness which is a part of the Triple Crown.  We have also learned the names and stories of many of the dog heroes of the Iditarod Trail.

Here at Gilman, we all know the story of one particular horse hero above all others.  We all know the story of Goliath, one of the brave horses who helped saved the city during the Great Baltimore Fire.  We all know the story, because one of our very own teachers, Claudia Friddell, researched and wrote a picture book telling Goliath’s story.

So, naturally, Goliath: Hero of the Great Baltimore Fire became the perfect good will wish to send down the Iditarod Trail.  This week, each of my third graders paired with one of Mrs. Friddell’s first graders to write a letter to accompany a book down the trail to a new school.

We hope the students will enjoy learning about one of our heroes as much as we have enjoyed learning about theirs!

A is For Iditarod!

A is for Iditarod!

“What?” you ask.

A is for Iditarod.

Because the Iditarod awesomely takes place in Alaska and starts in Anchorage!

One of my favorite books to share with my students is A is for Musk Ox by Erin Cabatigan.  My third grade boys always roll their eyes when I tell them I am going to share an alphabet book with them – they are WAY too cool for that you know.

But, by the second page they are hooked!

This book is a funny way to show the kids how to play with language, use humor in writing, and teach them a lot about musk oxen!

We used the book as mentor text for our own version of the book A is for Iditarod.  The boys worked in groups to brainstorm ideas and then we combined their ideas together into one book.  We created illustrations, bound them, and then presented them to our kindergarten little buddies as a gift!  It’s a great way for my boys to get some practice reading orally and for the little buddies to learn a little more about our Iditarod obsession!

You can see a fippable copy of our book via Youplisher here: A is For Iditarod Book

Here is a copy of the brainstorming sheet my boys used: A is for Iditarod

Dog Yard Dilemma

This week we are focused on calculating area and perimeter… and what better tool to do that with then dog yards!

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This week the students are presented with a scenario where they have been sponsored by a local fencing company who offers them fencing for their dog yard.  Instead of traditional sled dog yards, the students will use the fencing material to advertise for their sponsors and create individual dog pens for their dogs.  In this three day unit, they will experiment with area and perimeter and discover how you can have many different yard shapes and still maintain the same area.  They will ultimately design their dream dog yard with spaces for all of their team dogs and possibly puppies and ill dogs as well.  The homework assignment seeks the students’ assistance in setting up the White Mountain checkpoint while testing their understanding of area and perimeter.

Dog Yard Dilemma Lesson Plan

How Big is That Yard Classwork

Dog Yard Dilemma Classwork

White Mountain Checkpoint Design Homework

Skyping Stone Fox

Last year, 2013 Iditarod Teacher on the Trail ™, Linda Fenton issued a challenge to see how many students she could get to read Stone Fox (http://itcteacheronthetrail.com/2012/12/28/stone-fox/).  The timing was perfect for me.  The fourth grade had recently dropped the novel from their repertoire, so I was able to pick it up and tie it into my curriculum!  I had never read the book before, and was soon just as hooked as Linda is!  It’s a great novel which is a great choice to teach students about point of view.   It also lends itself to discussion on an authors’ craft as you can discuss why the author made the story telling choices he did.

To begin our novel unit, we did a prediction activity by looking at the various illustrations that have graced covers of various editions of the book.  The boys quickly decided that I chose the book because of the obvious dog sledding connection to the Iditarod!  We discussed what it takes to be a responsible pet owner, as the boys predicted that the boy on the cover must own a dog.  (Here are some ideas if your students need some help:  http://www.loveyourdog.com/whatdogsneed.html).   We also talked about whether or not those responsibilities would be different if we lived in a cold environment and/or if that dog was a working dog instead of a household pet.

 As we had recently finished our unit on the fifty states, we spent a day looking at the setting of the novel.  The students each had a map of Wyoming and we created symbols and a key to identify key locations from the novel:  Jackson (the setting) and the Two Wind Indian Reservation (to represent Stone Fox’s tribe).

The students had predicted that there was a dog sled race involved from looking at the covers of the novels.  I introduced the kids to the International Pedigree Stage Stop Race (http://www.wyomingstagestop.org/) which is a modern day race held in Wyoming each winter. This year’s race begins January 31st.  The race is quite different from the Iditarod in that the mushers stop in towns after each leg.  We added the race route to our Wyoming Map and realized that this contemporary race is held in the same area of the state that the novel is based.  So by looking at photos of the race, we had some aids to help in our visualization of race scenes in the novel.

One of the covers we previewed also had a picture of a person whom my students identified as Native American. So I introduced them to the fact that this character is Shoshone, and that the Shoshone National Forest in also in the same area as the rest of the novel setting, so we added that to the map also!  We also located and identified Yellowstone National Park, because it is also a key location in the northwest corner of Wyoming.  If Yellowstone is new to your students, the Yellowstone Park Rangers do a distance learning program for students through Skype in the Classroom:  https://education.skype.com/projects/2237-yellowstone-national-park-rangers-can-skype-with-classrooms

Since we had already participated in that program, I needed a new Junior Ranger program for my students to complete related to this novel, and I found a great one through Shoshone National Forest.  The Forest Service offers a Junior Forest Ranger Badge program here:  http://na.fs.fed.us/ceredirect/jfr/.   The students complete the packet and send in the back page with an adult’s signature to demonstrate that they have completed the program.  They are awarded a patch and pin and get a membership card that allows them access to a special kid’s only online clubhouse.  The Forest Service also offers a Junior Snow Ranger Program that I am going to use with my guys to talk about winter safety in January:  http://www.fs.usda.gov/main/conservationeducation/smokey-woodsy/junior-rangers

Once we were finally ready to start reading the novel, we Skyped with Linda Fenton’s class.  I have never tried to simultaneously read and discuss a novel with another class, let alone another class in another state in another time zone… but it was really an amazing experience.  We did a mini-mystery activity by coming up with a list of ten questions to ask the other class, and then using the answers to determine what state we were virtually visiting.  Timing wise, it worked for us to Skype at the start of our Reading class which was at the end of Linda’s Reading class.  So during our first Skype, after determining their location, her students introduce the novel to us and helped pique our interest in reading.  In other Skype sessions throughout the next couple of weeks we discussed character traits for the main characters, shared our surprise at was happening, our feelings on the book vs. movie debate, and then finally shared our end of unit projects.  It was so cool to discuss the book with Linda and her class.  They had a different perspective on the novel and it was also neat for my kids to hear how different some things are between Wisconsin and Maryland!

Our Skype-Shared Brainstorming Chart

Our Skype-Shared Brainstorming Chart

Our final project, to tie together the race in the book, the Iditarod, the Wyoming Stage Stop Race, etc. was that each class designed a sled dog race for their state.  Linda had her kids begin their race in their hometown of Waupaca and then decide where to go to make a one hundred mile race.  They worked in partners to create a race course.  My kids worked as a whole class to create a race across the state of Maryland.  (We actually decided on a Northern Route and a Southern Route so we could visit Baltimore City and Washington, DC on alternating years!)  We decided to start on the Eastern Shore and end in the mountains of Western Maryland.  As a group we chose a series of towns to get us across the state and then they worked in partners to plan the checkpoints.  The partners used online travel sources to determine a great location for their checkpoint, decided what assistance they would be able to provide the teams, and explained all of their thinking.  We put the whole thing together in a Narrated Google Earth Tour, where we were able to fly over our race route and zoom into each checkpoint location and see the details that the boys had planned for each stop.  We quickly discovered there are A LOT of golf courses in Maryland and determined they would make great checkpoints because of the amenities available and the amount of open space for parking teams.