Sled dogs help students connect school lessons to real world

Last modified: 2/7/2013 10:46:02 AM
A classroom lesson came to life yesterday for ninth-graders at Franklin High School when a team of sled dogs came in for the end of a unit on The Call of the Wild.

“The kids are going to remember this forever, which is the best part for me,” said Carrie Charette, the teacher who organized the visit. “Now it’s not just a piece of literature that they read, they’ll actually see dogs and understand the concepts.”

Charette, who was recently named Teacher of the Quarter, got Campton-based Valley Snow Dogz to bring a team of sled dogs to the high school. The students spent the morning outside learning about the dogs, with some even getting a

chance to go for a ride. In lieu of paying to see the dogs, the students were encouraged to bring in donations for the Franklin Animal Shelter. They loaded up the truck bed belonging to Jeffrey Brewer, the shelter’s treasurer, with kitty litter, toys and even animal beds for about $400 worth of donations.

Participating students came from Charette’s and fellow ninth-grade English teacher Kristian Peterson’s classes, and they had to pass a competency test on the book to attend. The Call of the Wild is about sled dogs during the 19th-century gold rush in the Yukon, and the teachers thought bringing in the dogs would be a fun way for the students to make real-world, current connections to the story. Through the new Common Core standards and teaching methods based in the school’s federal School Improvement Grant, the teachers at Franklin are encouraged to make practical connections to their lessons.

“One of the dogs here actually fits the description of the main character of the story, Buck, and I’ve heard a few students talking about that. They’re definitely making connections,” Peterson said.

Lidia Dale-Mesaros, owner of Valley Snow Dogz, answered the students’ questions about her dogs, which include Alaskan and Siberian huskies. Students asked how much weight the dogs could pull, where they race and how fast they can run. Dale-Mesaros even brought a dog, named Yahboo, that is a Yukon husky, like Buck, and has a heritage dating back to the gold rush-era. Her dogs participate in mid-distance races across New England and can run at speeds of up to 19 mph, she said.

Through their questions, the students learned how realistic the book was.

“I thought it was a little unrealistic that (the dogs) pull 1,000 pounds, that’s why I asked,” said student Justin Keith. “I thought it was really interesting that they really did, because otherwise I probably wouldn’t have known that.”

Following the question-and-answer session, Peterson drew names out of a hat to determine which four students would get to ride with the dogs. Six dogs were harnessed to two ATVs, which each carried a Valley Snow Dogz employee and one student. The ATVs were put in neutral and the dogs ran them around the dirt track.

Principal Richard Towne and several other administrators and teacher mentors came outside for the lesson, and they were all impressed with how attentive the students were. The students themselves expressed excitement and gratitude for their teachers’ hard work in bringing the dogs to the school.

“I think it’s a privilege and honor to have (the dogs) here,” said student Elizabeth Franson. “I enjoy the book, but to see it come to life is better.”

(Kathleen Ronayne can be reached at 369-3309 or or on Twitter @kronayne.)

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