Porcupines, and Moose, and Bears, Oh My!


A moose spotted within a beautiful Alaskan backdrop

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Tonight was a page out of a Gary Paulsen book.  While out on an evening drive with a few other teachers we spotted a porcupine, a moose, and a BEAR!  Living in Chicago these are not animals I see every day, so I was quite energized to see all three in one night.  The moose and porcupine were spotted within seconds of one another, and I jumped with excitement because those are two animals the character Brian encounters in Paulsen’s novel Hatchet, which my students read each fall.

Then, as we were getting ready to head back into Wasilla, a furry creature made its’ way in front of our car.  It took us a moment to get the words out, but we all screamed, “BEAR!” at the same time.  As the bear cleared the road and we drove past where we saw him, we saw a trash can on the ground with garbage everywhere.  It was clear that the bear was looking for some dinner.


The black bear crossing the road

After the excitement died down, I continued to think about these three animals and how they can all affect mushers and their dogs.  Here are some discussion questions you can use with students to get them thinking about animals on the trail and in training.

How can a musher protect the dogs in their kennel from animals such as bears or moose?

How do you think a sled dog would react to encountering a moose along the Iditarod trail?

Why is it important for mushers and dogs to keep a safe distance from these animals?

Students can also research these animals to discover more information about their habitat, eating habits, and lifespan.


Beautiful Alaska!


Choose Kindness


DeeDee with the beautiful quilt from 3rd graders in Colorado

On Tuesday the teachers had an emotional visit from Iditarod veteran musher, DeeDee Jonrowe.  371 days ago DeeDee’s life changed forever.  371 days ago the Sockeye fire began and destroyed many homes and livelihoods of those in Willow, AK.  DeeDee shared her story of heartache with us, and invited us over to see the rebuilding of her kennel.  The acts of kindness which DeeDee and the entire Willow community received in the months following the fire were an inspiration to the teachers and made us understand that a small act can go a long way.

The one act of kindness that stuck out to me came from a 3rd grade class in a small town in Colorado.  The town suffered extreme flooding not long before the Sockeye fire, and they received aid from neighboring towns.  The local 3rd grade teacher was so moved by the acts of kindness during their time of need, that she wanted to pay the kindness forward.  Her class chose to do something for DeeDee and her kennel after the fire.  The teacher had her students create quilt squares with pictures of DeeDee’s dogs; then, they sewed the squares together, and sent the quilt to her.  It is a beautiful piece of art and I am so thankful that DeeDee shared the quilt with us. It was an amazing act of kindness— one that impacted both DeeDee and the teachers at summer camp.

While acts of kindness are always appreciated during times of need, it is important to teach our students to CHOOSE KINDNESS!  Kindness is a way of life, not something we do every once in a while.

“A little spark of kindness can put a colossal burst of sunshine into someone’s day!” –Unknown


DeeDee Jonrowe with current and former Teachers on the Trail

Iditarod Inspiration


Puppy walks!

The last two days at summer camp have been quite exciting.  We’ve listened to presenters, gone on puppy walks, and enjoyed getting to know one another.  However, besides the adorable puppies, there have been two parts that have stuck out to me.

First, Jeff Schultz, official Iditarod photographer, visited us and taught us his best practices of taking pictures, along with sharing his many stories from the trail.  Jeff has been volunteering his photography skills to the race for over 35 years, so his passion and knowledge for the race were truly an inspiration to all of us.


Jeff Schultz teaching the campers how to take great pictures.

Then, we had a surprise guest visit us before dinner last night.  Larry Daugherty, first time finisher this year, stopped by to share his story with all of us.  Larry explained that his love for the Iditarod began when he was ten years old when his grandmother would send him articles about the race from Alaska.  Larry followed his dream to Alaska, with his family in tow, and completed the 2016 Iditarod (despite taking his dogs in the wrong direction towards the beginning of the race).

One person Larry spoke to us about was his high school debate coach, Mike Burton.  Coach Burton helped Larry overcome obstacles, and made him feel as if he could achieve his dreams.  It reminded me that by using the Iditarod in our classrooms we are making an impact on our students and teaching them the importance of dreaming big and working hard to make their dream a reality.  As we say often up here, the Iditarod is more than just a race… it is a powerful teaching tool which inspires our students to work hard to reach their goals.


Larry Daugherty with the teachers at summer camp.


Greetings from the Windy City


The Chicago skyline from Ping Tom Park in Chinatown

I am so excited to be the 2017 Iditarod Teacher on the Trail™!  I teach 4th grade at Saint Andrew School in Chicago, and I will be starting my eighth year this fall.  I teach math, social studies, language arts, and religion.  Besides teaching at Saint Andrew I also run an after school Irish dance program and help with the cross country team.


Ice climbing on Root Glacier in Wrangell-St. Elias National Park

I am a born and raised Chicagoan; however I love being in nature whenever I can!  I enjoying camping, hiking, kayaking, and I’ve just started to get into backpacking.  Running is also a passion of mine.  I have completed 8 marathons, including the Anchorage marathon last year.  Over the next year I plan on “running” the Iditarod trail (1,049 miles of running!).  My adventurous bone has led me to many beautiful places including the San Juan Islands, Smoky Mountains, and a month long trip to Alaska.  Needless to say, I am extremely grateful and excited to travel down the Iditarod trail in March.


Hiking in Minnesota with a pup friend

The last few days have been quite exciting up here in Alaska.  Teacher Summer Camp is underway and the group will be spending the next few days at Vern Halter’s Dream-a-Dream Dog Farm in Willow, AK.  The teachers will be treated to presentations by 2015 Red Lantern winner Cindy Abbott, mushing veteran Deedee Jonrowe, photographer Jeff Shultz, and many more Iditarod favorites.  Stay tuned for updates throughout the week!

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My family and I after completing the Chicago Marathon in 2015