For the last nine years, Blynne Froke has taught students with one more chance—those who have been expelled and must complete a specialized course that will allow them to continue their education with their peers—at Los Molinos High School. At first, she struggled to excite and inspire her troubled students until she assigned Gary Paulsen’s nonfiction novel Winterdance, which chronicles his misadventures running Alaska’s 1,050-mile Iditarod sled-dog race from Anchorage to Nome. The book resonated with Froke’s students, and she began incorporating the Iditarod into her entire curriculum. Froke has been selected as the 2012 Target Teacher on the Iditarod Trail, and will be flown into some of Alaska’s most remote locations during the race in March. She will Skype with her class from checkpoints along the trail at every available opportunity. Check on her progress on her blog at http://itcteacheronthetrail.wordpress.com.
Is it especially challenging working with students on their last chance?
We have a small community, so I know a lot of the families. I’ve taught them for almost 10 years, and struggled and worked with them individually. I was always frustrated because I wanted them to get excited and do the right things to end up getting back to the high school.
How did the Iditarod theme catch on?
Gary Paulsen, who normally writes kids adventure stories, ran the Iditarod and wrote a book called Winterdance, a very amusing book. I started reading it to the kids, and they thought it was as funny as I did. They were hooked, totally excited. I realized I could teach them math, science, geography and character education through that.
How would you describe your teaching style?
Teachers like to teach thematically, because it follows an individual’s passion and excitement. For the most part, if you get excited about something, the students will get excited as well. My enthusiasm definitely got them started, but they saw what the mushers were doing, and saw it was something every bit as hard as graduating high school was going to be for them. They saw the metaphor in there.
You’ve done a lot of traveling. Where does Alaska rank for you?
My daughter and I went to China last spring, which was the most difficult time because I don’t speak Chinese. I’ve been to Bolivia, and I lived in Venezuela when I was in high school, but I can speak Spanish pretty well, so I can get by in a Spanish speaking country. I’ve been to Alaska several times, and it is so exciting because of the combination of the relaxed attitude and everybody’s excitement. I’m kind of an adventurer. Alaska isn’t the most exotic place I’ve been, but I like it best.