Elementary students race on in I-Did-a-Read

Mar 24, 2015

Students travel from checkpoint to checkpoint along the I-Did-a-Read trail by reading hundreds of minutes.

As Iditarod mushers took off from Fairbanks, Dillingham elementary students embarked on their own long-distance race: the “I-Did-a-Read.” Instead of leashes in hand, they had books.


We’re racing the mushers to Nome.
We read both at school and at home.
Mark each box,
Use the clocks,
Earn a dog tag of your own!

-- Limerick by fourth graders Jacob, Ralph, Josiah, Cheyane, Cinto, Hunter and Mrs. Larsen

The I-Did-a-Read race is the brainchild of Nick Tweet, the Dillingham elementary school counselor.

Tweet says the idea came from growing up in Nome. “I had a vague recollection of reading a thousand minutes and getting a prize,” he recalls. “So I thought that students should read to get to checkpoints.”

The school’s main hallway has been transformed into a miniature of the 1000-mile trail, with each classroom bearing the name of one of the Iditarod checkpoint villages. Students move their colorful, Velcro-backed paper dog teams from checkpoint to checkpoint. Each student keeps a trail log, which must be initialed by a parent or teacher to verify the number of minutes he or she has logged.

Older kids and adults travel one mile per minute of reading; younger kids travel two miles per minute. By the end, that adds up to a little more than eight or sixteen hours of reading.

As we travel the hallway, Tweet points out his own dog team at the Kaltag checkpoint, two-thirds of the way. He’s pacing himself, hanging back because he knows some of the kids get a kick out of passing him. “They’ll laugh about it, say ‘eat my dust!’ or whatever,” he says fondly. “But honestly, some of the kids read more than I do.”

A group of first-graders call out the titles they’ve been reading for the I-Did-a-Read: Piggie and Elephant; Big Hero 6; Go Dog Go! Tweet himself is reading kids’ books to get on their level ­– the Ranger’s Apprentice series and Percy Jackson.

The even playing field is what makes this competition unique, Tweet points out. It’s one of the only competitions in which kindergartners, fifth graders, and adults can all compete together. The time you put in, not number of pages or reading ability, is what counts.

Besides the adjustments for age, the only special rule for adults is that emails don’t count; otherwise the grown-ups would have an unfair advantage.

“For myself, I’ll choose reading instead of watching TV,” Tweet says, “just to try to make it to that next checkpoint.” He hopes kids will be inspired to set those kinds of goals for themselves.

This is the third year the entire school has participated in the I-Did-a-Read. Many teachers have added creative ideas and incentives for their own classes, Tweet said, which builds enthusiasm for the race each year.

Theresa Leitz helps her kindergartners keep up by pairing them with fifth grade buddies to read for 15 minutes each day. She also has her class move their dog teams together; Gus Fonkert, the first kindergartner to reach Nome, moved to the head of “the pack” by reading over an hour a day at home.

First grade teacher Teresa Duncan says she likes the built-in geography lesson; students get to learn the names of the Alaskan villages along the trail.

A few of Janice Larsen’s fourth graders wrote and recited an I-Did-a-Read limerick in front of the school for St. Patrick’s Day.

Other teachers keep track of the real Iditarod, challenging their students to race against Aaron Burmeister or Aliy Zirkle. Tweet said some of the kids finished faster than some of the real mushers.

Still, I-Did-A-Read is not primarily a contest of speed. Students are encouraged to set realistic daily goals for themselves, no matter their pace.

“We talk about how you’re not really comparing yourself to anybody else,” Tweet said, “Everybody gets the same prize if they get to the finish line.”

And though the competition is all about enjoying books, it has benefits beyond reading comprehension.

“Not only are kids reading a little bit more, both at home and during free choice time at school,” Tweet explained, “but we’ve also seen a decrease in bad behaviors over the past couple of weeks, as kids are motivated to spend their time doing productive things.

These book-mushers are also practicing life skills along the way; it takes responsibility to keep track of a personal trail log for weeks or even months. It takes perseverance and patience to read for sixteen hours in ten-minute increments.  

First grader Ariana Heyano after completing the I-Did-a-Read.
Credit Hannah Colton

  

Last Friday, one small musher, Ariana Heyano, reached the construction paper burled arch at the far end of the school. Tweet presented her with the prize: a shiny blue dog tag with her name freshly inscribed on the back.

“You went a thousand miles in five hundred minutes,” Tweet declared, slipping the dog tag like a gold medal over her head. “Welcome to Nome. Congratulations.”

Although all the Iditarod mushers have now gone home, the I-Did-a-Read race will continue through the rest of the school year. Tweet hopes that all the students will persevere with their daily reading and eventually cross the finish line.  

Contact Hannah Colton at hannah@kdlg.org