Return to Headlines

ASD Students Take a Virtual Field Trip Through the Storytelling of Alaskan Iditarod Musher Shelley Gill

Shelley GIll

On a dreary, mid-December afternoon, more than 150 participants from Willow Crest Elementary School flocked to an optional Zoom schoolwide assembly with guest Iditarod musher, author, and activist Shelley Gill.

Stories of training Iditarod dogs along the Denali Highway and studying polar bears lit up the eyes of students and teachers alike. As Gill described in detail the smells of an Iditarod checkpoint, siblings and adults began to huddle into the student Zoom call, likely drawn in by the animated storytelling.

“I use my senses to write my stories,” Gill explained to the participants. “I like to smell my story. I like to taste my story.”

Gill uses descriptive storytelling to teach students about adaptation, whales, Arctic climate change and the Iditarod. In her presentations, Gill inspires students to discover how they can use personal experiences to craft their own stories.

“I hope kids walk away from today enthralled with the idea they can write about their lives, Gill said. “It’s the details that count and nothing is better than a great story!”

Willow Crest Elementary School SEL/Behavior Teacher Expert Victoria Hoogland facilitated the presentation and said it was a great time for Willow Crest to come together as a school family and learn about things they have in common.

“In a time when we can't get together as we have in the past, seeing Shelley's presentation gave our students hope. They were able to travel somewhere, virtually, through amazing storytelling, vivid pictures, and incredible video and audio.”

Gill’s presentation is one of several schoolwide assemblies to take place at Willow Crest via Zoom this school year. Past presentations included Tom Griffin with Alaska Fish and Game and Alaska Native Storyteller Johon "EchoHawk" Atkinson.

“In bringing in various topics, we are engaging students in a type of storytelling where the presenters are utilizing academic vocabulary, social studies or science based,” said Willow Crest Principal Dr. Dianna Beltran. “This will support our learners in comprehension and fluency, as well as provide information to them in different ways that can be more engaging.”

Beltran explained as a Title I school with 29% Alaska Native or American Indian population, 79% Economically Disadvantaged, and 27% English Language Learners, it is important to expose her students to engaging content and experiences they might not otherwise receive.

“The content of the information is very well tied to our Alaska culture, said Beltran. “Living in Alaska, we are surrounded by wildlife, we learn from our elders or people who look like us through their story telling, and we learn about how we are connected to the Earth through science, history and culture."