BROOKSVILLE, Maine — “I did a run for the Iditarod.”
That’s what the seventh- and eighth-grade students at the Brooksville Elementary School are hoping a lot of folks will be saying this weekend.
The youngsters are holding a 5K walk-run, along with a community breakfast, on Saturday to raise funds for their trip in March to Alaska, where they want to be on hand for the start of the Iditarod, the annual 1,100-plus-mile sled dog race across the state.
“We’ve got to raise some money,” said seventh-grader Sage Shaheen, “and we’ve got to buy warm clothes.”
The 12 students have been working for about two years and already have raised about $25,000 toward their goal of $30,000.
“We’re at the point now where we can see that it’s really going to happen,” said Nada Lepper, who teaches third and fourth grades at the school and is leading the trip. This is the second group of students to make the trek from Brooksville to Alaska. Lepper made a similar trip to the Iditarod in 2005.
The students began learning about Alaska and the Iditarod when they were in Lepper’s class. Subsequent teachers have incorporated more information into their classes during the years. Lepper now meets with the group about once a week to help plan the trip, even though they are no longer in her class.
“I’ve always felt, and valued, that all students in the school are my students, not just the ones in my classroom,” she said. “That’s part of what I love about a small school.”
The current group of travelers came into Lepper’s class in the fall of 2005 after the last trip to Alaska.
“They came in and innocently asked, ‘When do we get to go?”’ she said. “I told them then, ‘Sorry, you don’t.’ At that point, I thought it was a one-time thing.”
But when the idea of another trip came up again a couple of years ago, they seemed like the logical group to take, she said.
The seed was planted by someone who had been interested in the Alaska trip and asked Lepper if she had thought about doing it again. She said her response at that point was, “Why not?”
“It’s fun. I know it’s going to give me a lot of pleasure to see their eyes light up when they’re amazed by something they see,” she said. “It’s exciting to see students of this age have this type of experience.”
The students have run a series of suppers and breakfasts that have become real community events. Although the youngsters don’t do any of the cooking, they run the rest of the event, from checking people in and taking their money to cleaning and resetting tables.
“I like the socializing,” said Sven Hooper, an eighth-grader.
“It’s fun, getting to meet people,” said seventh-grader Katrina Limeburner.
Although the trip is not scheduled until March, when they will fly to Anchorage for the start of the Iditarod, the students already have done some background work on the race and know a few things about the race and a few of the mushers who will participate.
“We’re going to be going to Martin Buser’s kennels,” said Jasmine McDonald, an eighth-grader.
Buser is a multiple winner of the event, but each of the students is developing their own favorites. Jasmine’s is DeDe Jonrow, a musher who has survived breast cancer and still returned to do the race.
Over the next months, the students will be writing and e-mailing mushers to learn more about them, their dogs and the race.
At this point, the students seem most excited about viewing a chocolate waterfall at a chocolate factory, seeing the Northern Lights and visiting a water park, but Lepper said they will have experiences that will last a lifetime. Part of that will include a stay in McGrath, a town of 400 people that is a checkpoint on the Iditarod trail with no roads running in or out of the town.
They will meet different people, learn about small-town life in Alaska, fly over the Alaskan Range and learn about different cultures, Lepper said.
“The value of a trip like this will last a lifetime, it never ends,” she said. “They’ve had the opportunity to learn skills and to use those skills in a social setting in a way that shows off their natural talents.”
One of the biggest benefits for the students has come from the process.
“They’ve had the experience of setting a goal, and seeing that if they’re willing to plan, work hard and work together as a group, they can make it happen,” she said.
The breakfast on Saturday runs from 7 to 10 a.m. at the school. Admission is $6 apiece or $15 for a family.
The 5k race starts at the school at 9 a.m. Registration fees are $5 children, $10 adults and $20 for a family.