George Washington Meets Iditarod

Paws Along the Trail with School Children

This first week in Alaska as 2018 Teacher on the Trail™ has been spent speaking in area elementary schools. It’s an honor to be invited into their classrooms! I begin by sharing some differences between Virginia and Alaska:

  1. There are no moose in Virginia.  All across the room, disbelief is voiced, “What???”
  2. Most people do not have snow machines.  Again, aghast facial expressions.

Being from the state of George Washington, I decided to bring George’s life to Alaska through my lesson. We read a book, George Washington and the General’s Dog by Frank Murphy, where George returns a lost dog to his enemy, the British general during the American Revolution.

We continue on, discussing the ins and outs of the Iditarod. I question the students, “What possible connection can the Iditarod have with George Washington?” They have no clue.

A wonderful story is told in Lew Friedman’s book, Iditarod Classics, and we act it out. Three rookies were racing the Iditarod and doing well. Their goal was to finish, and finish well enough to capture the Rookie of the Year award in Nome.   As they continued, they came across a fellow rookie musher slumped over his sled, gravely ill. The choice had to be made whether to stop their progress and help him, or move on toward their goal. One drove ahead with a veteran to get help. The others stayed with Mike and tried to get him to drink some water and eat a little. They started a fire and put him in sleeping bags, attempting to keep him warm. He continued to decline. Eighteen hours later, a helicopter arrived. The rookies went on to Nome, but the award was already taken. Mike, however, was better and waiting for them at the finish with tears of thankfulness.

We discuss how sometimes we need to do the right thing, even when it’s for a competitor or an enemy.  It’s a history/character lesson all in one!  There are many  stories about mushers on the Iditarod sacrificing their finish times to help a comrade that could be shared with students. Comparing and contrasting George Washington with the Iditarod would be a good challenge.

Finally, my city gave me George Washington masks to use in my presentations.  The students loved them!  We ended with a group photo today that I will send home.  Hopefully, some of the Alaskan 4th graders will come to Virginia to see where George lived.  However, there won’t be any moose.


[photo credits:  Terrie Hanke]