Eye on the Trail: Deprez is 2021 Iditarod Teacher on the Trail™

Jim Deprez, 2021 Iditarod Teacher on the Trail™ at 17th Dog Kennel with Cool Cat

Jim Deprez of Ohio will serve as the twenty-third Iditarod Teacher on the Trail™.  The program began back in 1999 when Andrea (Finney) Auf der Heyde convinced the Iditarod Trail Committee to put a teacher out on the trail to be a direct link between the race and classrooms around the world.  As an Elementary teacher, Finney knew the value of the race in motivating students.  The real life applications that Iditarod offered gave teachers powerful tools for every aspect of the curriculum – math, science, social studies, reading and geography. 

Here is a letter from Jim introducing himself.  “My name is Jim Deprez and I am in my 15th year of elementary teaching. After growing up in central Massachusetts, I went to college in Ohio and pursued a career in teaching. Since then, I have taught grades 2, 3 and 5 in Ohio and North Carolina in 5 different school districts. Each teaching experience has given me many new things and increased my familiarity with different technology, teaching strategies and curriculum. I am currently teaching 3rd grade in Ohio.

When I am not teaching, I love spending time with my friends and family, and being outdoors and watching sports. I am an avid New England sports and Ohio State fan. I have 2 daughters (Alexis and Riley) with my wife, Emily, who is also an elementary teacher. Because we both have summers off, it enables us to do a lot of traveling to visit family and go to the beach.

During my time in college, I was able to complete 2 environmental studies abroad on Vancouver Island, and Baja, Mexico, where I developed a passion for conservation. I was able to study and see first hand the deforestation taking place in the Pacific northwest, and learning about the impact on the area from the local First Nations community. In Mexico, we studied water conservation, Grey Whale populations and migration, and sea turtle conservation efforts while working with local environmental groups and communities there.

I have been teaching about the Iditarod for over a decade, each year adding something to the 6-week interdisciplinary unit after collaborating with new colleagues. Each of my teaching experiences have allowed me to reach a new audience and spread knowledge of the Iditarod, and history behind it. I am always trying to think of new activities and ways to make it more interesting for each new group of students. I’m sure being the Teacher on the Trail™ will be the culmination of the entire Iditarod experience. I am really looking forward to this amazing opportunity!”

Jim has put together some plans for the coming year.  Here’s what you can expect to find on the Iditarod Education Portal.  Beginning in September, he plans to post three times each month through the end of the school year.

Being that every one likes to hear form mushers, Jim will be interviewing mushers and sharing stories about then and now.  This marks the 49th running of the Last Great Race®.  “Then and Now” will be a venue to share stories on how things have changed over the years.

Sharing lessons is what the Teacher on the Trail program is all about.  Jim says he plans to highlight and share a few lessons each month that he’s currently doing in his classroom that could be useful to both rookies and veterans who use Iditarod as a theme for motivating their students.  Jim will put out a sequential series of lessons, which any teacher can use.  His lessons will cover all aspects of the curriculum.  He reminds all teachers that when it comes to finding great lessons, borrow and tweak is the way to go.

Jim says that even though he’s used Iditarod as a theme for education for fifteen years, he learns many new things every year.  Thus he plans to include a myth buster or “Common Misconceptions” segment in his monthly post.  Topics you might see will be the Widow’s Lamp and the Red Lantern.  He plans to share how important sled dogs were during WWI around Veterans Day.

Brian Hickox (2019) passes the sleeping bag to Kelly Villar (2020)

It’s been a long standing tradition that the sleeping bag that bears a patch designed by each teacher on the trail is passed to the new teacher at the Musher Sign Up and Volunteer picnic held the last Saturday of June.  Like most everything else this year, the picnic was cancelled and musher sign up went virtual.  The passing of the sleeping bag between the 2020 Iditarod Teacher on the Trail™, Kelly Villar and Jim will be handled unceremoniously through the mail.

Many thanks to Kelly Villar who in spite of the uncertainties of the 2020 race did an outstanding job of sharing unique and interesting lessons bringing the race to classrooms around the world.  Kelly’s posts from the 2019-2020 school year will remain on the EDU Portal for teachers to access in the future.  

Congratulations to Jim.  Be sure to check the EDU portal often to keep up with the information and lessons he shares throughout the year.