Mushing for Literacy

Jan Steves on the trail
By Pat Ratliff | May 09, 2013
Photo by: Pat Ratliff Jan Steves makes an adjustment to the cold weather gear Craig Degginger, PIO for Shoreline Public Schools donned as part of Steves' presentation to fifth grade classes at Meridian Park Elementary.

Jan Steves is back on the trail. This time she’s mushing for literacy.

Steves is busy making presentations to schools about her experiences preparing for and being in the Iditarod sled dog race.

“I love school presentations,” she said. “It shows my love for the dogs and the mushing, and I also get to pick up on the excitement of the students.”

Steves still feels that excitement as well, and shares it with the students as she shares pictures, tells stories and shows items from the trail; her cold weather suits, face masks, food cookers, drop bags, race bib, dog booties and other items. She also brings along the “Red Lantern” she won at the 2012 Iditarod.

Last Monday, she even brought a special guest along as she met with two groups of fifth graders at Meridian Park Elementary in Shoreline. The guest: Birdie, a veteran Iditarod sled dog that made the entire 1,100 plus-mile run just two months ago, as a member of Bob Chlupach’s team.

Teachers Hannah Peterson and Stephanie Smolen each had students who studied the Iditarod and followed Steves and other participants through the race.

Students met the musher and the dog (a high point of the presentation), and several of them got to try on some of the Iditarod clothing, gloves and facemasks.

Many of the students tracked the teams on maps as they raced across Alaska. Others tracked weather and race positions.

Some had their own favorite musher or dog. And they were interested enough that students were coming to school early to check up on the real-time race results each day.

“ I got a letter from a girl in second grade,” Steves said. “She had been in her school’s Iditarod reading race.

“For every 10 minutes of reading at home, she got to move 10 miles along the race route. The idea was to keep up with the teams on the trail.”

Another classroom contest involved students rolling dice to determine the terrain and weather as the students moved along the trail. They used various classroom skills to determine how far and fast their “team” moved.

But seeing Steves in person brought all the excitement of the race home to the students.

“I’ve had teachers tell me, ‘The kids will be so excited to see you. They consider you (Jan) their friend.’”

Steves will be visiting a number of other schools before the school year ends, including Audubon Elementary in Redmond, Prairie Elementary in Yelm and Challenger Elementary in Everett.  She’ll also be going to Jefferson Elementary in Mason City, Iowa to do a presentation.

The schoolwork and learning process the students went through following the Iditarod wasn’t just a two-week process; many of them started in the fall at the beginning of the school year.

They followed Steves on her blog ( and began learning about the training and preparations that had to be made to undertake a 1000-mile race.

“They’re following me before the race, during the fall,” Steves said. “I usually do a welcome to the class on my blog, and they see their names on the blog.

“I answer questions from them when they send them. One girl even wrote me on her birthday, so I gave her back a big ‘Happy Birthday.’”

And the students are still following Steves, sending in questions and asking for information.

The presentations are a way for Steves to connect with the students and teachers, and to make the whole process more “real” to the students

One of the Meridian Park Elementary classes with Jan Steves after a Mushing for Literacy presentation. (Photo by: Craig Degginger)
(Photos by: Pat Ratliff)
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