Alaska, Education, Outdoors

ITREC! training is held in Seward

ITREK training at Seward Community Library Museum. Heidi Zemach photo
iTREC! training at Seward Community Library Museum. Heidi Zemach photo

Fifteen teachers from communities across Alaska, located along the Iditarod National Historic Trail, gathered in Seward, ground zero of the famous trail recently to attend a training on how to better connect students with their outside world. The training’s focus is to get students outside more, make environmental education, history and culture relevant to their lives, and give them a sense of stewardship of their community service projects.

iTREC!,  or “Iditarod Trail to Every Classroom” a place-based learning training program created by schoolteachers and communities along the Iditarod Trail. The Iditarod Historic Trail Alliance is the lead partner, and it is coordinated by the Chugach National Forest in partnership other agencies such as the Bureau of Land Management, Alaska Geographic, Alaska Department of Fish and Game, and National Park Service. The program is now in its fourth year.

While in town, the group visited Seward Elementary School, in a tour led by teacher Jennifer Haugh, one of four Seward iTREC alumnis. They looked some of the interesting projects being undertaken here, including the new Schoolyard Habitat Program.  The multi-year project began last year when students and community members dug up areas with unsightly brush and other non-indigenous plants around the elementary school, and replanted it with native plants, trees, and berries. In former years classrooms had taken on the stewardship, testing and restoration of Seward Lagoon and Scheffler Creek. They have also pulled out invasive species behind their school, created pamphlets, plays, and media materials on the issue.

While here, the iTREC group hiked along the Historic Iditarod Trail at Bear Lake, and learned some ways to practice GPS skills with their students, said Annette Heckart, Program Coordinator for iTREC with the Chugach National Forest. They were also visited briefly by Seward musher Dan Seavey and Seward Historian Lee Poleske, both of whom were guest speakers at an earlier training when they explained the Iditarod trail’s significance to Alaska.

On Friday, teachers shared some of their school’s own projects related to the outdoors, and gave suggestions. A common theme in their presentations was their student’s lack of experience hiking and exploring their own environments, and their lack of knowledge of the unique places, and culture available in their own communities.

Shannon Bolog, one of two teachers from Alpenglow Elementary School in Eagle River, said his student’s comfort zone is between school and home, not wandering the Iditarod trail that goes right past their school. Now the teachers try to get the kids out more to explore the trail with their classes, learning different lessons as they go. Teacher Laura Ann Hulsebus reads her students “Hatchet,” the popular young-people’s novel about how a boy learns to survive on his own in the wilderness, to help get them to buy into the Alaska wilderness experience.

Machetanz teachers attend Seward ITREK training. Heidi Zemach photo.
Machetanz teachers attend Seward iTREC! training. Heidi Zemach photo.

Machetanz Elementary School, a K-5 school in Mat-Su Valley, allowed five teachers to attend the Seward training. They showed video of the model mountain they had built outside the school, covered with plants that typically grow in alpine habitats, and the school’s outdoor “amphitheater,” where students sit on large rocks facing their teacher or one another for outdoor lessons or recess.

The main focus now is to teach the students lessons to be found in five uniquely different areas of the valley.


Following a survey, they learned that in Hatcher Pass, folks recreate a lot, but don’t know much about the history of the area, so the teacher will help fill in the gaps. She plans to delve deeper into the history of Independence Mine, working with the Geological Society and Alaska State Parks.

In the Machetanz Reflection Lake area students already maintain the trail and pull invasive plants, but folks weren’t even aware that the Iditarod Trail ran right through it.

In the Palmer Hay Flats, there’s a lot to learn by studying the wetlands, navigating the trails, and about Athabascan life by visiting a cultural site there.

The Knik area is dog musher’s heaven, and has a lot of historical significance, including the old abandoned town site, and the last stop on the trail prior to the railroad.

At Hatcher Pass, teachers are planning trips to the musk ox farm, and to Anchorage Museum to learn about the culture of the Dena’ina people.

The Matanuska Greenbelt north of the school has giant trail systems, including Machetanz homestead on University of Alaska Anchorage land. They, and land near the local dump would lend themselves to great lessons on the concepts of “leave no trace”, trail design, and stewardship, said one teacher. Students could easily help clean a huge mess of plastic bags left over from the dump, said one teacher.

“We’re taking over the whole valley,” she exclaimed, admitting in conclusion that it will be difficult to limit their dreams to what is realistically possible. When they finish their third and final training this summer in Nome, the focus will be on building sustainability into the educational programs they create.

(Reported by Heidi Zemach for SCN)




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