I arrived in Unalakleet this morning, a small village on the coast of Norton Sound and mile 714 on the Iditarod Trail. I walked into the musher’s checkpoint off the frozen river, and I was immediately drawn to the beautiful home-made signs showing support for Aliy Zirkle and Jeff King that were taped to the walls.
The tragic situation outside of Nulato has created a “teachable moment” for educators who are following the race in their classrooms. Aliy and Jeff were attacked by a young man who made bad choices. This can be a starting point for an important conversation in your classroom with your students.
For younger students in the primary grades, I would talk about how every decision you make has consequences, both good and bad. For older students, I would talk about how being under the influence can impact your life and the lives of others in profound ways.
I will share with my students how inspiring it is to see two people face adversity and move forward with courage. At this time, Aliy and Jeff are moving along the Iditarod Trail and showing the resilience that makes them such great role models for our children.
A positive part of the conversation is the timely initiative that the Iditarod embraced before the race start called the “ACT on the Trail”. ACT stands for “Alaskans Changing Together” and it brings awareness of the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium and its support for families to create wellness goals for themselves and help each other stay healthy. I remember when Champion Iditarod musher John Baker stood up in the musher meeting in Anchorage and asked his peers to show their support for wellness and health programs for the native youth of Alaska, especially those in remote villages such as Nulato. Every musher embraced the ACT initiative and wanted to help. They collected yellow ACT bandanas to put on their sled dogs for the ceremonial start.
The program has reached out to the communities at every checkpoint. I have seen their young ambassadors hand out everything from toothbrushes to wellness tips. The goal is to have communities along the Iditarod Trail create: a youth council, a wellness coalition, and a youth leader club. They will then be eligible for money that will be donated for a wellness program when the red lantern is awarded in Nome.
The conversation teachers can have with their students about this issue is important, and the initiatives that the Iditarod has in place certainly can have a positive impact for these communities on the trail in the future.