When students at Clara Barton Elementary School entered the gym Jan. 26, they were greeted by six huskies barking and happily wagging their tails on the stage.
Students spent their day learning about huskies and the sport of dog sledding from Douglas and Bryan Heitz, owners of Howlin’ Huskies Kennel in Perkasie, Pennsylvania. Second-grade teacher Bryan Mitchell planned the assembly to bring his lesson about dog sledding to life.
About five years ago, one of Mitchell’s students had family in the Alaskan town where the Iditarod Trail Sled Race is held. The student’s family sent Mitchell maps and books about the race to use in his classroom, and he began incorporating dog sledding races into his non-fiction literature and geography lessons. Last year, he had the idea to create an interactive lesson for his students by bringing sled dogs to the school.
“[Douglas Heitz] talks about the breed, how they can handle the weather, the conditions — it ties in with different grade levels,” Mitchell said. “Some will talk about animals, other grade levels will talk about weather, culture, environment, so it all ties into lessons. Every assembly we do should have a curriculum connection, but it’s also just fun.”
Douglas Heitz brought in six of his huskies from the kennel, all of which are rescue dogs, and sled dog equipment. He told students about the history of dog sledding and how huskies are able to handle the cold weather. He took questions from students and held demonstrations about how the dogs pull the sleds.
When Douglas Heitz asked for volunteers to help with one of the demonstrations, just about every student eagerly raised their hand to participate.
“The kids are super excited about it, most kids love animals,” Mitchell said. “Even last year, what was interesting was even the kids who were kind of apprehensive, pretty much most of them went up and pet the dogs. Maybe they were a little bit shy, but it gave them a different perspective on animals. They got that interaction with these dogs.”
Douglas Heitz stressed that huskies are loyal pack dogs who make terrible guard dogs because they’re such friendly animals. He has been working with huskies for more than 30 years, and he loves sharing his love of dogs with children.
“Students always have such admiration for the dogs,” he said. “It’s great to teach a lesson and learn about the dogs and have the real thing in front of you.”