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Mrs. Wangseng’s third-graders point to their dog teams. The class members each “adopted” a team and are following them along the Iditarod course. Photo by Carol Green

Iditarod fans grow by a classroom each year as Amy Wangseng has her students “adopt” a sled dog team and track their progress.

The activity gives students an opportunity to learn about geography, perseverance, internet research and good sportsmanship.

Students in Mrs. Wangseng’s third-grade class are learning about the history of the roughly 1,000-mile race, its length and potential hazards, and rules governing the race.

As the race approaches, students research dog teams and then choose their favorites to track throughout the race, which lasts 10 to 14 days. Their criteria is as varied as the students. A few of them shared how they chose their team.

Everett said he studied the teams carefully and, in the end, “picked mine (Riley Dyche) because he looked like my dad.”

Holdyn chose a rookie (Gregg Vitello) who he learned began sledding because he enjoyed spending time with his dogs.

Tommy liked the look of his dog team (Jessie Royer), “They looked cool.”

Weston looked at the musher’s website and decided he would choose Michael Williams, Jr. because his dogs were fast.

Unlike the actual race, when a musher must drop out, Mrs. Wangseng’s students may choose a new team and continue the race. Kora’s first musher had to do just that, so she chose a new team with a veteran musher (KattiJo Deeter) who had worked for a veterinarian.

John’s team (Richie Diehl) has been leading the mushers in Mrs. Wangseng’s class, as well as performing very well across the Iditarod pack. He was sitting in second place on Friday.

Students shared their knowledge of race trivia — a veteran is a musher who has run Iditarod previously while a rookie is in their first Iditarod race.

Cam explained the race is commemorative of a run by a sled dog named Balto who delivered diphtheria medicine to a community (Nome, Alaska) saving many lives. The winner gets a new truck and prize money according to Holdyn and Everett.

The whole class was surprised to learn how close Alaska was to the North Pole. Jayden (Matthew Failor) observed that it doesn’t matter what the dogs look like, but their personalities are what is important.

Many of the students believe they would like to be mushers one day.

Except two. Tommy already has other plans for his future, and Jayden is concerned that the dogs could get injured.

If you encounter a third-grader from Valier, ask them about their Iditarod race. They have learned a lot and have some good information to share.

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