Traditionally, the first Saturday in March is the beginning of the annual Iditarod Sled-Dog Race held in Alaska. Mushers and their sled dogs travel from Anchorage to Nome, about 1,100 miles, through subzero temperatures and frozen landscapes.
The third-grade students in Melissa Fennen’s class at Pasadena Park Elementary School in the West Valley School District spent time earlier this year learning about the race, the dogs and the mushers and even created centerpieces which will be placed on the tables during the banquet mushers attend to find out their starting order.
“We were officially picked and it was really exciting,” said student Lilli Meyer. “There were four other classes and we were officially picked.”
The class was one of five across the country selected to make something for the banquet. The class took some wood pieces and glued cartoon pictures of the mushers on one side and congratulatory messages on the other.
Caleb Forschler’s parents helped the students with the project.
“They made the wooden centerpieces and we glued the paper on it,” Forschler said.
If you ask the students about the race, they can tell you just about anything there is to know about it.
“They have to wear booties,” said Jackson Caviness of the sled dogs. “They could get injured in their paws (if they don’t).”
“There are 63 mushers in the banquet,” said Dustin Weaber. The class was to make only 50 centerpieces, but they thought everyone should get one, so they made 13 more.
They know mushers don’t stay awake through the whole race, but stop to sleep and take meals. There are food and supply drops throughout their journey.
“The sleds have to have medicine and blankets so they can camp out,” Meyer said. “When they go to sleep, (the dogs) roll around in circles and put their tail over their nose.”
Pasadena Park held an assembly at the school, and the class even met a sled dog.
“The sled dog came for the assembly,” said Angelina Ostapenko. “We didn’t get to pet it, but it was pretty cute.”
The dog belongs to Brandon Comella, the youth director at Fennen’s church. Fennen also brought in a dog sled owned by Maria Naccarato, who races dogs in Idaho.
“We put our centerpieces on the sled,” said Nathan Thomas.
The centerpieces have since been shipped to Anchorage, where mushers will enjoy them March 3 during the banquet. When the race starts March 5, you can bet the students will keep track of their favorite mushers and dog teams.
“I’m very proud of my students,” Fennen said. “The students were happy to receive an e-mail from Alaska that the centerpieces had made it to their destination, that they were just what the committee needed and were beautifully made.”