Skype connects Calf Pen students with Alaskan Iditarod in March

The students of Calf Pen Meadow will be going to the Alaskan Iditarod in early March — in a manner of speaking.

Thanks to administration and staff at the school, students will attend the event via Skype. They will send their well-wishes to five dog-sled teams they have sponsored and will communicate with the teams during the month-long race.

The Iditarod is an annual trail dog sled race held in Alaska. Established in 1973, the nearly 1,000 mile race begins March 1 and will travel the Alaskan trail northward from Anchorage to Nome.

With more than 70 teams expected to race this year, the event incorporates thousands of dogs, mushers, judges, timers and onlookers as the dog sled teams traverse the rugged countryside.

The school’s media specialist, Mary Ellen Minichiello, has led a variety of activities and projects at the school for the past few years and this year partnered with the Calf Pen Meadow PTA to fund a sponsorship subscription for the Iditarod. This sponsorship enables the students to ‘follow’ five mushers in the race; these individuals will be airing live broadcasts and ‘Skyping’ along the trail from beginning to end as they stop off at resting stations during the race.

Students conducted research on all 72 mushers and voted to select their five top choices. They were also expected to give reasons why they wanted to pursue a particular competitor. Among those they chose to follow, the students voted to support two mushers who are twins, commandeering two different dog sled teams.

Blankets for ‘Dropped Dogs’

When Iditarod organizers recently indicated that there was a need for fleece blanket donations, Minichiello sent out a request to the school community, asking for donations of fleece blankets. The blankets are needed to protect the dogs that become injured or ill during the race. These dogs are called ‘dropped dogs,’ as they are removed from the race and cannot continue.

Dropped dogs are rescued by race personnel — but it oftentimes takes many hours before the rescue can be made. The fleece blankets are used to protect the dogs and keep them warm until help arrives.

Within one week the community had collected over 100 blankets to be shipped in time for the race in Alaska. The school was extra grateful when parents Christie and Buddy Prete offered to package and pick up the cost of shipping the blankets to Alaska.

Interdisciplinary Learning

The Iditarod project has become a much anticipated schoolwide event over the years, school officials said. The students learn about the Iditarod race, not only in their media center lessons, but in all of their course work during this time of year. Students learn about the dogs — what they eat, how they train — and about the geography of the trail in Alaska — towns, the stops along the race. They study the history of the race, and they use math and technology to follow the race and estimate how long the trip will take.

There are two connected incentive-based events that will be launched at the school: A Reading Iditarod project and a Physical Fitness Iditarod project.

Students will be asked to read 1,000 pages over the course of the month. They will need to track their progress, just as they are tracking the progress of their dog sled teams. The same will go for a Physical Fitness Challenge, where students will record fitness minutes, with the goal being 1,000 minutes.