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Iditarod by proxy

Retired teacher Penny Hendrickson took Warren first-graders with her last month to experience the Iditarod by means of a poster bearing their self-portraits
by: Submitted Photo, Holding a poster of Warren School's first-grade self-portraits are musher Cindy Gallea, Penny Hendrickson, an Iditarod volunteer by the name of Joann, and Hendrickson's friend, Joyce Elliot at White Mountain Check Point 21. Musher that arrived here checked in on the frozen Fish River, only 77 miles from the end of the 1049-mile race. The ice was a foot thick and the temperature was 5 degrees.

Penny Hendrickson is the quintessential first-grade teacher. Her eyes sparkle and her rosy cheeks glow with her enthusiasm. Although retired, her once-weekly students are the apples of her eye, and sharing her life experiences with them is what makes the former Winston and Sheridan school teacher blossom.

In January, Hendrickson started teaching a unit on the Iditarod to first-grade students at Warren Elementary School. Being a fervent Alaska buff, Hendrickson has always wanted to attend the Iditarod race, but never had the opportunity. 'I took an Inside Passage cruise in 1990 and just loved it,' said Hendrickson. Then, seven years ago, she and her step-mother drove the Alaska Highway and rented an apartment in Anchorage for a month, taking side trips and enjoying what the area offered. 'Instead of quenching my interest, it just heightened it,' said Hendrickson.

Hendrickson has successfully taught a unit on the Iditarod race to first-graders before. 'It's a fun way to teach writing, math and science,' said Hendrickson. 'It spices up the curriculum a little, and for some reason children love it. Even the frilly little girls love it. Maybe it's because it's so different than what they've ever experienced.'

Recently, a former classmate of Hendrickson's who lives in Cordova, a small town on the east side of Prince William Sound in southern Alaska, invited her and a few friends to come up and visit during the Iditarod event. The group of four spent 10 days following the 17-day race and cheered on the 59 mushers competing.

But, before she left, Hendrickson and her students created a gigantic laminated poster for her to take along on her trip. 'They wanted to go along so they made self-portraits,' said Hendrickson. The self-portraits were laminated to the poster and she took it everywhere she went in Alaska. She also had photographs taken of mushers, friends and event volunteers holding the poster. So, even though the students couldn't attend the event in person, their self-portraits did.

Each of the two Warren first grades picked three mushers to follow along through their 17-day trek through the Alaskan wilderness. Upon Hendrickson's return, she brought photographs of their chosen mushers and created a bulletin board in the hall with the poster and the photographs for the entire school to enjoy.