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Forest City third-grade students learn all about Alaska dog-sled race

Forest City third-grade students learn all about Alaska dog-sled race

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Longtime “former” Forest City High School social studies teacher Marla Betz claims to be retired.

However, substitute teaching quite often, she hasn’t retired completely from teaching, nor from sharing her love of dog sledding with Forest City Elementary School students.

On Feb. 25, Betz interacted with third grade students in their classrooms throughout the day. Students of third grade teachers Matt Harriman, Cari Lillquist and Scott Riggen participated.

Betz familiarized all of them with sled dogs, focusing on the Iditarod race in Alaska. Having been to Alaska and helped with the Iditarod twice herself, she arrived with her dog sled, harnesses, and dog booties to show the children.

Students enjoyed viewing the many pictures and posters Betz shared. They also read biography sheets on each musher participating in this year’s race. Since spring break starts simultaneous to when the Iditarod begins, there won't be in-class activities during the race like students done in the past.

“Each student usually has a musher they can follow,” said Betz. “There are fewer mushers this year, but hopefully the kids will track their musher.”

Betz said she gained an interest in dog sledding when Forest City held sled dog races at Pilot Knob in 1994 and 1995.

“I have owned Huskies and have a dog sled, but I am only a musher wannabe,” said Betz. “I have worked at different sled dog races, including two trips to the Iditarod in Alaska, in 2002 and 2018. In 2018, one of my jobs there was in the call center, so the third graders from Forest City Elementary School called up to Anchorage to ask me questions about the race. That was really special. I had a blast.”

Other jobs Betz undertook in her first Iditarod included working at a musher banquet, helping to park musher vehicles for a ceremonial start, and handling dogs for mushers, including an Iowa City musher, in addition to working in the call center.

Even now, she still imparts to students what it is really like to be in the Iditarod wild.

“Those without computers, especially natives around Alaska call in to race call center for race updates,” she said. “I got to fly in a bush plane out to one of the checkpoints and see the mushers camping. I could see up close the feeding of the dogs, the vets doing dog checks, and talking to mushers.”

Betz said she enjoys peaking students’ interest in a different type of activity or hobby as well as discussing the bond between mushers and their dogs. It gets them intrigued about the great outdoors and Alaska, in particular.

Students learned about many aspects of the Iditarod, ranging from volunteer work that makes the race possible, the mushers, their kennels and preparations for the big event.

Betz discussed the dogs, their desire to run, the training, the food they eat, costs, and especially the bond formed between the mushers and dogs. A number of women run the race and there is also a Junior Iditarod for persons under age 18. Unfortunately, the junior race will not be held this year due to COVID-19.

"This is very educational for them to learn about a historical event that happens every year in a different part of the world," said third grade teacher Matt Harriman. "So many of these kids are animal lovers, which helps kids really get engaged."

Rob Hillesland is community editor for the Summit-Tribune. He can be reached at 641-421-0534, or by email at


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