On January 25, 1925, Dr. Curtis Welch, the lone physician in Nome, Alaska, sent a desperate radio signal across the frozen tundra. There had been an outbreak of Diphtheria, an extremely contagious disease affecting the throat and lungs. Many of Nome’s residents were very ill with what Dr. Welch had previously believed to be lesser serious sore throats or tonsillitis, but after two small children died, the crisis became clear.


“The doctor and all of the people in the town were very scared and a lot of them were sick and getting worse,” third grader Hunter McGillis recalled of his research of the event.

The panic-stricken Dr. Welch began to search for the necessary medicine, which was available from Seattle, but conditions were too cold to fly it to Nome by plane. On January 27, 1925, the life-saving serum arrived by train from in Nenana, from Anchorage. It was still some 627 miles from Nome.


“They couldn’t just go to the store,” McGillis continued to tell the tale. “It wasn’t as easy for them as it would be for us.”

“The medicine went by sled dog,” third grader Bryant Matton added. “It wasn’t an easy trip because there were a lot of blizzards.”

“They couldn’t see where they were going,” third grader Xavier Gillilan said. “All of the rushing winds made it hard to steer and they couldn’t see what was left or right of them so they didn’t know which commands to use to drive the dogs.”


“The medicine got lost because the sled crashed into a snow drift,” third grader Anna Howard said. “The musher found it with his numb hands.”

“They ended up on some ice that was cracking. Togo, the strongest dog, guided the other dogs to safety off of the ice,”  McGillis said.

“They got the medicine to Nome, finally! The dogs were very tired but they felt very happy,” third grader Camryn Slingerland said. “A lot of people were saved, but some people died.”


Today, the race that commemorates this successful journey is called the Iditarod.

The Fletcher School hosted the October Siberians sled dog team and lead musher Robert Farley on March 10. The morning began with a whole-school presentation that chronicled the life of a sled dog including housing, training, feeding, racing and socialization. The event was timed to coincide with the Iditarod sled dog race, which several classes have been following and studying. Farley spoke  about the race and shared the personal stories of two famed dogs that saved the residents of Nome. Following the presentation, classes experienced outside interactive sessions with the dogs and sledding equipment.

The October Siberians are a 15-dog team of Siberian Huskies based in Hinesburg, Vermont. Farley, a full-time employee for the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation, received his first dog in 1994 and founded the group in 2005.

“Knowing about the Iditarod is important because it celebrates when the anti-virus got to Nome,” third grader Willem Bishop said. “It’s all a part of history and people still do use sled dogs for fun and to transport tools and supplies in Alaska.”


Students in Fletcher will continue to follow the successes and challenges of the 80 Iditarod teams that are currently racing from Anchorage to Nome.

Read more about the October Siberians sled dog team.

Target 3 – Flexible Learning Environments. FWSU maximizes flexible learning environments by redefining the school day, promoting learning experiences that extend beyond the classroom, and fostering creativity, innovation and personalized learning opportunities for all.

Indicator of Success – Flexible learning environments are the context for collaboration and extend beyond the classroom. 

Action Step – Provide students with access to content, resources and methods for learning beyond the school day and beyond the school walls.



Christopher Dodge is the Principal of Fletcher Elementary School and is a regular contributor to the FWSU Blog. You can follow him on Twitter @FletcherFalcon


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