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!

Click the follow button to continue to receive Teacher on the Trail™ updates all year.



My family and I after completing the Chicago Marathon in 2015


Happy Trails to You…

_0DS7072-1 copy

Laura Wright, 2016 Iditarod Teacher on the Trail in Nome- photo courtesy of Mike Kenney

The time has come for me to say “good-bye” to my Teacher on the Trail™ Iditarod year.  I started this journey a year ago. I have had the most extraordinary year sharing and learning with teachers and Iditarod fans around the world.  I spent some time today scrolling through hundreds of photos and videos from my time on the trail and found a few special top moments I wanted to share with family, friends, and fans who have supported me this year.  

#1 My Wonderful 4th Grade Class


The most amazing, incredible group of students on the planet

I would not be the Teacher on the Trail™ without these incredible kids.  We had a blast showing off our talent, attitude, and creativity this year.  I am the luckiest teacher to have had such wonderful students to share this experience with me.  This year will connect us forever, and it warms my heart to think about that.  Great job mustangs!

#2 Headlights at Night and the Juniors

People often ask me about my favorite memory from the trail, and I can honestly say that my time with the Jr. Iditarod was very memorable and special on so many levels.  I loved seeing young people be so responsible and show such integrity in the care and welfare of their dogs.  They also had fun being together and bonding.  I wanted to be a teenager again!  This memory from the Yenta Roadhouse was one of my favorites.  The young mushers and their teams rode out at night with only their headlamps to guide them.  I had always wanted to see this myself, and as I stood on the frozen Yenta River, late at night, with Barbara Redington by my side, I really felt a part of something unique and special.

#3 The Jon Van Zyle Style

What is there to say about the master artist of the Iditarod?  He is charming, talented, and the real-deal musher from times long ago.  I remember visiting his home and studio last summer, and I was casually told to go to the next room and see the newly finished painting that would soon become the official 2016 Iditarod poster.  This really moved me to tears.  This made it all real for me.  This beautiful piece of art would not only represent The Last Great Race on Earth®, but it would also represent me and my time as a part of it.  Before the race this year, Jon was gracious and signed my copy of the poster with a special note of encouragement to me.  I will treasure it forever!


Thanks for the memories Jon!

#4 My IditaRider Moment!

It was such a thrill and honor for me to show off the maple leaf of Canada in Jason Campeau’s sled at the ceremonial start of the race.  What is it like to be in a musher’s sled on 4th Avenue?  Watch a few minutes of our travel to the starting line, and hear rookie musher, Kim Franklin with me well!  So cool!

#5 Joe Pendergrass!

The men and women of the Iditarod volunteer Air Force are extraordinarily dedicated.  Joe is one of these special people, and I am proud to say, a personal friend. 


Joe and “Tex on the Trail” from Eanes Elementary School

I was thrilled when he flew me to my very first checkpoint at Yentna.  It was a special experience, and to have a friend by my side was the icing on the cake.

#6 The Lights

I remember clearly when I left my classroom to come to Alaska.  One of my students yelled out to me, “I hope you get to see the northern lights Ms. Wright!”  We studied the aurora borealis all year and they were a passion of ours in science, art, and our writing.  We were especially thrilled when Iditarod chose to put the eerie phenomenon in their 2016 logo design.  We were certain it was just for us.  It was pure magic to see the lights in Elim one night.  I watched them move and shimmer until the cold froze my fingers, and I could no longer take pictures.  A lifelong goal was fulfilled.  


Glow baby…glow!

#7 You Gotta Have Friends

One of the best parts of being Teacher on the Trail™ are the friends you make along the way.  There are too many to mention, but these special people helped make this journey the wonderful, unique experience it was.  Thank you all!

#8 A Good Laugh in Shaktoolik

I distinctly remember landing on the frozen sea ice at the Shaktoolik checkpoint and realizing I was not quite prepared for the cold.  Local resident Edgar met the plane and informed me we had to walk the long mile to the checkpoint.  I was worried and colder than I could have ever imagined.  At one point even Edgar, with a huge grin, laughed about the freezing temperature.  We continued to giggle about it all as we trudged along.  Suddenly a Shaktoolik resident walked outside his home wearing shorts and a t-shirt.  Edgar and I laughed even harder…at ourselves!  I really felt like a Texan that day!  Edgar had one of the best attitudes I have ever met in another person.  He made me smile in a tough moment, and I will always appreciate it.


Finally warm at the checkpoint!

#9 A Helping Hand 

Several mushers helped me this year to share this experience with so many people.  They helped me with lesson plans, they encouraged me, they made me laugh, and they inspired me.  I was proud to share their stories.

#10 From Austin City Limits to the Windy City!

I am now handing over the reins to a new IditarodTeacher on the Trail™, Annie Kelley, from Chicago.  I am excited for her journey this year, and she is enthusiastic and ready to share her experiences with teachers all over the world.  The Iditarod is in good hands.  Happy trails to you Annie!


Take it away Chicago!


Radiating Hope With Musher Larry Daugherty


Dr. Larry Daugherty and his son, Calvin, make it to the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro

The Iditarod may be over, but for mushers like Dr. Larry Daugherty, the desire to inspire others continues.  I had the great pleasure of getting to know Larry and his family during his rookie year in the 2016 Iditarod, and I was thrilled to watch him cross the finish line in Nome with his wonderful family there to cheer him on.  Larry and his family are what we call, “good people.”  He is a cancer doctor by trade, and sits on the Board of Directors for Radiating Hope, a non-profit that supports radiation treatment for cancer patients in Africa.


Larry, his wife, Prairie, and the Daugherty kids: Charlie, Conrad, Azalea, Calvin, and Bailey

Taking a step back for a moment, I remember watching Larry coming under the arch in Nome and we could all see what that accomplishment meant to him personally.  It was quite an emotional experience for all of us.  


We all had a good laugh when, Prairie, had a camera malfunction with the cold and, so I happily took some photos of the special moment for them.


I remember at one point Larry brought out some special flags, and I didn’t quite realize the significance of that moment until this last week.  He was sharing a new goal with the world, one that would also be challenging for himself physically and emotionally.  


Larry under the arch in Nome

Larry and his son, Calvin, climbed Mount Kilimanjaro to raise awareness for the special needs of cancer patients in Africa and help bring life-saving radiation equipment to those in need.  Here is video of Larry and his son making the final trek, after 7 grueling days, to the top!

I can’t imagine the life lessons that Larry’s son will carry with him for the rest of his life from this experience.  I was inspired by his story, and Larry is another example of how the Iditarod brings such amazing people together, from all walks of life, with powerful stories to share with us all. 


Larry and Calvin in Africa before making their way to the top!

I remember in Anchorage, the day before the race, Larry signed a ceremonial sled at the musher meeting, and I happened to be there to see it.  I wondered what he wrote, so I took a closer look:


Famous last words!

I know Larry will continue to inspire us all with his good work in his community, and with the global outreach of Radiating Hope.  Best of luck Larry!

Radiating Hope Information

(you are about to leave a secure web site – not responsible for content)

School Supplies for the Top of the Kuskokwim


The welcoming committee for Nikolai

As I reflect on my time as the 2016 Iditarod Teacher on the Trail™, I will always be grateful to the remarkable village teachers that helped me during my journey.  In Nikolai, I spent a lot of time with Ms. Tara Wiggins and her wonderful students at the Top of the Kuskokwim school.  Her generosity helped me so much during my stay at the checkpoint, and I wanted to show my appreciation to her and all the Nikolai villagers who were so gracious.

Currently, there are 16 students ranging from Pre-K to 12th grade in the school, which has enabled them to have two teachers; however, one teacher must live at the school due to a lack of housing in this small village.  This is only one of many sacrifices that teachers make working and living in such remote areas in Alaska.


As I prepare to pack up my classroom, I thought about Tara and her students, and what I could do to help them.  When I walked through her class the first time, I loved the charming watercolor paintings that hung on the walls, and we talked about the challenges of having art supplies for these special projects in a place such as Nikolai.  I asked Tara if I could send her brand-new art supplies for next year, and she was thrilled.  I thought about all the teachers and Iditarod fans that read these posts and wanted to share this opportunity for others to give back as well.


         Donate new art supplies to this school in Nikolai, AK!

If you are a teacher packing up your classroom this week and you have art supplies that are brand new and never used, or you are an Iditarod fan who wants to support the villages along the trail, please consider making a donation of supplies or books.  

Top of the Kuskokwim School

PO Box 9190

Nikolai, AK 99691

It is the support of many village teachers along the trail that help the Iditarod Teacher on the Trail™ post and share about the race with so many, so I hope you will join me in supporting them!

Please send only new supplies – these children deserve the best!


Pretending to be a dog team in Nikolai – with “Tex” the horse mascot from my school in Austin, Texas

The Iditarod Finale


Our final fight from Nome to Anchorage

I arrived in Anchorage this week on a special flight filled with Iditarod volunteers, race judges, veterinarians, and our race marshal, Mark Nordman.  We had a great time cheering, laughing and telling tales from the trail.  We ate homemade sandwiches and brownies and enjoyed this special last time together as we traveled from Nome after weeks on the trail.  We knew we all had enjoyed the opportunity of a lifetime, but it was coming to a close.

The Iditarod Insider crew did a great job of sharing about the Finishers Banquet in Nome, but I have my own special memories of that night.  The Anchorage Lakefront Hotel cooked a meal fit for a king, as the mushers, their families, volunteers, and Nome citizens feasted on prime rib and, of course, their famous chocolate covered strawberries.


A sled filled with strawberries in Nome!



Brent Sass enjoys the Nome buffet

It was a wonderful opportunity for me to walk around and say good-bye to mushers who had helped me so much this year with sharing Iditarod lessons with teachers around the world.  Their generous gift of time helped make the Iditarod authentic and personal to children all over, and I will be forever grateful.


Me with Sarah Stokey



Noah Pereira, me and Patrick Beall



Prairie Daugherty, Larry Daugherty, and Iditarod White Mountain volunteer Stacey Cardy


I also gave a hug to Canadian musher Jason Campeau, whose sled I rode in  for the Iditarod ceremonial start in Anchorage.  It was an amazing experience.  The dedication these mushers have towards education and connecting kids to the mushing world is extraordinary.  I am so thankful to have spent time with them this year!


Me with Jason Campeau



The banquet lasted a few hours, and trophies and stories were shared from the stage all evening.  Early on, a gift from the village of Nulato was given to Aliy Zirkle and Jeff King.  The citizens there raised money for them after the tragic incident on the Yukon River, and Jeff spoke about giving it back to the community to support drug and alcohol abuse wellness programs.   It was a lovely gesture, and everyone was moved by the opportunity and generosity from Aliy and Jeff to want to help those in need.


In a very emotional moment, Aliy took home the award for best dog care, and asked her husband, Allen Moore, to come to the stage and accept it with her.  The Leonhard Seppala Humanitarian Award has been given out since 1982 to the musher who shows the best dog care and remains competitive.  Aliy won this, hands down.

DeeDee Jonrowe was surprised with a replica of the very same award she had won years ago.  It was destroyed in the Sockeye Fire this summer.  She was deeply moved by the gesture, and talked about starting over and moving forward.


DeeDee Jonrowe accepts her reproduced award



Another special moment from the stage was hearing from veteran Iditarod champion, Martin Buser.  His son has been recovering from a serious car accident, and it was quite remarkable to see Martin on the trail this year.  Martin has a wonderful attitude, and I remember in Nikolai the villagers talked about his sense of humor and generosity all these years on the trail when he would come through.  Martin joked about his long “camping trip” this year in the Iditarod, and he had high spirits and a smile as he left the stage to loud applause from the crowd.


There were many, many memories made and shared that night.  I loved the fact that every musher had the chance to take the stage and say something personal about their experience on the trail.  The rookie mushers were handed what they had worked so hard for, the Iditarod belt buckle to wear with pride.  Some stories were moving and some were funny…and everything in between.   It was a perfect way to end the Last Great Race on Earth™.