Tasha Stielstra’s first program for Darke County Center for the Arts looked as though it might not get off to an auspicious start; the computer that holds the data to be projected onscreen while she tells students all about her life as a musher and sled dog owner showed only a blank screen announcing “Updating. This will take a while.”
But the Ansonia fourth-, fifth-, and sixth-graders were assembled, eagerly awaiting the DCCA Arts In Education show, so the charismatic and petite vortex of energy plunged ahead without the video, without the audio, and immediately captured the students’ attention with her direct straightforward manner; the fact that Tasha’s co-star was Rhu, a sweet and friendly sled dog, helped too.
Stielstra and her husband, Ed, own and operate “Nature’s Kennel” in McMillan, Michigan, where they raise and train sled dogs and operate a touring business featuring sledding adventures. Rhu, short for Rhubarb, is an Alaskan Husky who works as lead dog when pulling sleds, an assignment the 11-year-old canine had happily performed not only the day before her initial appearance in Darke County, but also during the most recent classic Iditarod race, running more than 1,000 miles from Anchorage to Nome, Alaska. The duo handily charmed, entertained, and informed their audience for about 45 minutes until the at-last-updated computer returned to a user-friendly mode, and the students were treated to delightful scenes depicting the teamwork Tasha and Rhu so ably illustrated.
Tasha told the students that she owns 180 dogs who do not do tricks and do not fetch or hunt, then asked what traits a really good sled dog should possess. Obedience, strength, stamina, determination, and endurance were quickly identified as desirable, but while body structure and paw features are important factors, “good looks” is not a consideration when seeking a possible champion racer. Alaskan Huskies are not purebred, so come in various sizes and can be almost any color; but they are bred to be long-distance runners who work well with others.
Which brings us to the true subject of Tasha’s presentation — “Pulling Together,” demonstrating how teamwork is necessary to achieve personal success. Three core values that contribute to winning sled dog races also apply to meeting goals one sets throughout life. “Be Safe” might manifest itself differently for a sled dog, but youngsters need to be aware of safety concerns, even while pursuing lofty dreams. “Be Kind” includes making friends with everyone and working together whether you are teamed in front of a sled or on a school project. “Be Responsible” can be defined as knowing your job and doing it to the best of your ability; accepting responsibility is essential to earning deserved rewards regardless of your age or position in life.
Those truisms, briefly illustrated on-screen at Ansonia and central to the multi-media presentation during performances at other schools throughout the week, were made even more memorable when members of the audience enacted those values. Tasha enlisted volunteers to drive and pull the dogsled that travels with her; one student donned snow boots and a parka and shouted commands at schoolmates who assumed the role of the sled dog team, responsibly and safely moving as a cohesive unit to “pull together” and reach their destination.
Tasha explained three more rules that must be observed when moving a team forward; Rule Number 1—Don’t Let Go; Rule Number 2—Don’t Let Go; and Rule Number 3—Don’t Let Go. Not only can disaster ensue when the dogsled driver loses the reins, but life goals will not be achieved without intrepid perseverance. Even when following your dreams, hard work and team work are necessary components to achieving success.
DCCA’s Arts In Education presentations take programs to students in every grade of all local public schools—expanding imaginations and inspiring creativity while teaching good citizenship. At Ansonia, Stielstra and Rhu demonstrated how by pulling together, they could overcome technological adversity to achieve DCCA’s goals, an achievement appreciated by educators and students throughout the community even when the program went pretty much exactly as planned.
Marilyn Delk is a director of the Darke County Center for the Arts and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Viewpoints expressed in the article are the work of the author. The Daily Advocate does not endorse these viewpoints or the independent activities of the author.