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Dog sled icon Aliy Zirkle creates virtual field trips for students, educators

“Husky Homeroom” aligns with Alaska curriculum standards and guidelines to allow teachers to use it in their lesson plans
Published: Oct. 19, 2020 at 4:28 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Concerns with the spread of COVID-19 reached far wide and the 2020 Iditarod race was no exception. Checkpoints that used to be teeming with people were relegated to veterinarians, logistics, communications coordinators and dog handlers. Crossing the burled arch, although an achievement that carries a great sense of pride also wasn’t the same as in years past with fans not allowed to mingle on Front Street.

“When I got home after finishing this year’s Iditarod, not only had the global pandemic changed the race, it changed the world as we know it,” veteran musher Aliy Zirkle said.

Zirkle arrived in Nome in 18th place this year. She was also awarded the Leonhard Seppala Humanitarian Award which goes to the musher who demonstrates outstanding care of their race team while remaining competitive.

After having a conversation with her sister — a single parent whose son was having trouble with online learning — then other family members, friends and teachers across the state, it became apparent to Zirkle that students stuck in the online learning environment needed something to look forward to. She reached out to one of her big sponsors, Matson, for help and they agreed.

“The biggest thing that I have is, is I have these dogs and I have adventure and science and math and that all leads into my life which is these dogs and I can talk about that,” Zirkle said.

That’s how the Husky Homeroom started. It’s an opportunity to give students and anyone of any age a weekly field trip and something to look forward to. Zirkle worked with teachers throughout the state and past teachers on the Iditarod trail for guidance. Zirkle’s educational videos are aligned with Alaska Curriculum standards and guidelines which allow teachers to use it in their lesson plans. Zirkle’s dogs also help her in each video lesson.

“They’ve been pretty helpful, surprisingly helpful,” Zirkle said. “A lot of people look at sled dogs and think of them as these crazy heathens who are running out in the wild in Alaska. Honestly, these guys have been up for it, they’ve been pretty helpful co-teachers.”

Zirkle and her dogs launched the first episode in early September. She releases new 20-minute videos every Monday and now has a total of six, with intentions to release between 10 and 12.

“I’d like to finish out the semester,” Zirkle said. “That puts us into December and then we’re focused on the next Iditarod.”

Her episodes cover topics such as why dogs are built the way they are and about their strengths and weaknesses.

“It’s a continued work in progress like many things these days,” Zirkle said.

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