Second grade students at Clara Barton School made some new furry friends Feb. 3. Bryan Mitchell, who has been teaching at the school for 12 years, arranged for a musher and five of his sled dogs to come to the school as part of his annual lesson on dogsledding. The assembly was planned to coincide with the 1,000-mile Yukon Quest sled dog race through Alaska and Canada.
Mitchell’s classes have been covering dogsledding and the Iditarod, another well-known race, for about five years. Jade Delaney, one of his students, had a relative who lived in Anchorage, Alaska, where the Iditarod starts each year. She brought in to class a map of the trail, some books on dogsledding and a dog bootie, and Mitchell was inspired.
“The students learn about the sport, the mushers, and Alaska while following these events,” he said. “They write stories and poems, track the progress of the mushers via the internet sites, and create their own posters and dog teams. We also have a bulletin board in the hallway that I update each morning showing who is in the lead and other pertinent information. The students absolutely love it.”
Douglas Heitz and his son, Bryan, of Howlin’ Huskies Kennel in Perkasie, Pennsylvania brought five Siberian huskies to Clara Barton. Heitz has been dogsledding for about 25 years, and most of his dogs are rescues.
“Many people get huskies as pets, because they are gorgeous, friendly dogs,” Mitchell said. “However, huskies are born to run, so if you don’t exercise them enough or in the right way, then they become a ball of energy that can be too much for some people to handle. Then the owners want to get rid of the dog, because of his or her excitable behavior.”
Heitz pointed out that making sure the dogs get in the exercise they need—like pulling a mountain bike or a dogsled—keeps the dogs mellow at home.
The students loved the dogs, Mitchell said. Loki, Diamond, Barley, Kodiak and Mackey lined up onstage, occasionally howling. Heitz’s song even demonstrated how the dogs pull a sled by hooking a line up to his mountain bike. Kodiak pulled him on his bike through the gym.
The Heitzes also brought a real wooden dogsled, complete with all of the necessary equipment, like ganglines and snowhooks.
The highlight of the program for the kids, though, was getting to pet the dogs after the demonstration.
“I figured all of the students and other staff members would love learning about this interesting and unique sport, too,” Mitchell said. “Plus, having any type of animal come into an elementary school is exciting. Make it five gorgeous sled dogs who are jumping and howling, and it was downright incredible.”