Second Grade Iditarod: Dogs, Mushers, and Nancy's Notes

Post by Erika Bakker, 2nd Grade Teacher

There are fourteen children in second grade, and Nancy Colón would have loved each one of them. They are a cheerful bunch, smart and sweet. They are hard workers who also enjoy being a little bit silly.

These children and I spend time together each day, doing our spelling, reading books, writing down ideas, practicing double digit addition. A lot of what we do follows Nancy’s plans. The children have learned about apples and our skeletal system and how to spell ‘because’. These lessons all come from her big binders of second grade activities. We talk about Mrs. Colón regularly: “In the math book, Mrs. Colón wrote that this assignment is a lot easier to do if you draw a picture of the word problem first, so let’s try that.” “Here’s a fun way to practice spelling words: Mrs. Colón made an example of it here, take a look.”

We miss Nancy. We think about her every day. She would have loved teaching this group. They would love her.

As March nears, the second graders start to think about the big dog-sledding race that takes place across Alaska. It’s called the Iditarod, and it’s a big part of the second grade tradition.

For many years, Nancy brought the excitement of this race to her classroom. She used the race as a springboard to much learning. Those who had her as a teacher still vividly remember doing this unit with her when they were in second grade. They remember choosing a musher to follow, rushing into the classroom each morning to see how far their musher had traveled overnight, and moving their paper dogsled along the race route that Nancy set up down the hallway. Students wrote letters to the mushers and many received notes back in return. They made brochures about Alaska and little dogsleds out of popsicle sticks and put words like ‘mush’ and ‘northern lights’ on their spelling lists.

It’s about time for the next Iditarod to start. And we miss Nancy even more.

I opened up her binder last week, the one that says “Iditarod” along the spine in her fun handwriting. Her Iditarod lessons are in the binder, along with samples of several children’s work from the last years. There are hand-written notes in the binder pocket, notes of reminder that the video she likes to show the students should be stopped at nine minutes fifteen seconds. The plans are there for the popsicle stick dogsleds and the Northern Lights art activity. Handouts are ready for keeping track of the mushers’ progress.

And so this bunch of fourteen children have now started to learn about Alaska and dog sledding. These children play Iditarod during recess, towing skipping ropes and yelling “mush” and racing across the playground with howls to the sky. These children will keep track of their musher and move a paper dogsled down the hallway, following the signs that Nancy made several years ago.

As we see this excitement, we smile. We love seeing children act out the Iditarod race on the playground and get all excited about which musher has traveled to Rainy Pass. But we ache. We miss Nancy. Lots of people really, really miss Nancy. As mushers race across Alaska, let’s pray for each other: for comfort, for the tangible presence of God to ease that empty ache.

It might be important for your family to follow the race this year as well. It’s something we can do as we miss Mrs. Colón. You may want to choose a musher and keep track of how they’re doing in the race (www.iditarod.com). Perhaps invite some friends over for dinner and talk about your Iditarod memories from second grade and other memories of Nancy and perhaps watch segments of the race online. Write the musher you followed in second grade and let them know you still remember! Visit the elementary building and watch this year’s second graders move their paper dogsleds down the hallway….I’ll have extras if you want to join in. You can stop by at 8 am each morning, starting March 7.

To leave your own memories of learning about the Iditarod, leave your comments on our Facebook post. Then share this on your own Facebook wall with your memories attached.