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Friday, April 20 News

Iditarod goes to East School

For the past 14 years, Thomas Dempsey's third-grade classes at East Elementary School in New Canaan have studied the world-renowned Alaskan Iditarod dog sled race to learn responsibility, teamwork and time management.

The lesson culminates in a mini Iditarod race around the school grounds.

On March 7, the race took place in eight inches of snow and showcased four dog sled teams with five students each. One student musher donned a racing bib and four other students had painted faces as the husky of their choice pulled the musher on a plastic sled through the snow at top speed through five checkpoints and to the finish line packed with spectators from all the other grades.

Parent volunteers stood along the trail at each of the checkpoints to sign the mushers and their teams in upon arrival, act as veterinarians and to ask questions about the local terrain or the care of Siberian huskies before the teams could get back on the trail.

Following the race, musher Becki Tucker of Outlaw Ridge Sled Dogs, of Voluntown, paid a surprise visit with her sled and 16-dog racing team. has competed in multiple races since 1998, including a recent 250-mile journey in just under 50 hours. She visited with the entire third grade of about 80 students on the playground and shared stories about her adventures on the race trail.

Student Polly Parsons said, "I can't believe we got to meet a real musher and pet her 16 sled dogs. It was so cool and we will all remember it for a very long time."

During the monthlong lesson plan, students track the map of the Alaskan Iditarod, study and follow the mushers who are participating in this year's race, learn how to care for the dogs and grasp the concept of small-town living where the population can be less than 10 people.

Dempsey said, "Becki's visit brought a new dimension to our studies. Contextualizing their work with real life experiences makes learning more fun and memorable for our students."

Students kept a daily journal where they responded to prompts that encouraged them to think about how they would handle difficult situations that were presented along the trail.