From A to Balto: Students learn all about the Iditarod

Posted by on February 5, 2013 in Featured, Iditarod | Comments Off

Balto is on display at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History.

Balto is on display at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History.

Third-graders in Staci Verge’s class grilled a National Parks Service ranger on Friday to find out more about the park service’s sled dog program.



The Junior Dispatch is once again planning to offer complete coverage of the Iditarod dog sled race and our coverage will officially start on Friday, March 1, but be sure to catch some early coverage all through out February.

Junior Dispatch invites you to participate by commenting or e-mailing with your thoughts on this story or the race by submitting artwork you’ve created.

Along with the Iditarod coverage, we will also be presenting a serialized novel, as we do every year during the Iditarod. This year, we will present “Rescue Dog of the High Pass” by Jim Kjelgaard a story about a young man and his dog working in the famed St. Bernard Pass in Europe.

The reading project will include videos, vocabulary words, coloring pages and other things for kids to do.

Get the FREE version of “Rescue Dog of the High Pass” here.

Verge’s students at Grandview Elementary School communicated via Skype with a park service representative from Denali National Park. Denali is in Wasilla, Alaska. Much of the park grounds in the wilderness are impassible by vehicles. Rangers use sled dog teams to navigate those areas in winter.

The Skype session tied into a lesson on Balto, the Siberian Husky sled dog who led his team on the final leg of the 1925 serum run to Nome, inspiration for the annual Iditarod. Students will also be following the Iditarod sled dog race later this year. In science, the two third-grade classes have learned about animal adaptations.

“We read about Balto in reading who is a famous sled dog,” said Verge. “In science, they’ve been learning about animal adaptations. It tied into both reading and science. We’re going to be following the Iditarod when it comes in March. We’ll be following that as well.

“They were so interested today.”

Students learned more about animal adaptations on Friday and were fascinated by the results.

A good sled dog, the park ranger explained, had five main adaptations to help them in their work: Two different types of fur keep dogs warm and dry, thick tough toe pads make it easier for travel, a bushy tail helps a dog breathe easier when curled up and laying down, a longer tongue aides in panting to stay cool while running and counter-current circulation keeps blood flow warm in their bodies.

“I think the thing I found interesting is their arteries and their veins were put together so that their body wasn’t too cold and it wasn’t too hot,” said Sam Raudabaugh.

“I didn’t know that they had two layers of fur,” said Haley Colby.

Students also learned background about the park, which is the home to Mount McKinley, North America’s tallest mountain peak.

But, it was the sled dog lesson that had students talking the most.

“I liked how it told us that when they get tired and the dogs take a break, they curl up and put their bushy tail over their nose,” said Garrett Swatsburg.

Reported by BRIAN HALL of the Public Opinion from from CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. Hall can be reached at 262-4811 and, or follow him on Twitter @bkhallpo. (MCT)