In our schools

Buddies enjoy sled dogs, other winter fun

By Sarah E. Reynolds | Mar 07, 2014
Photo by: Sarah E. Reynolds Ben Hoops, left, shows one of his sled dogs to kindergartener Gage Yates, right, at Hope Elementary School's Winter Fun Day Friday, Feb. 28. Fourth-graders Emily Snyder, second from left, and Eben Fagonde look on.

Hope — Hope Elementary School had its first Winter Fun Day Friday, Feb. 28, courtesy of the Buddy Program.

The Buddy Program pairs each of the 100-plus students with a buddy, explained school librarian Amy Gertner, who coordinates the program. Eighth-graders are paired with fourth-graders; seventh-graders with second- or third-graders; sixth-graders with first-graders; and fifth-graders with kindergarteners. One benefit of this arrangement is that for at least two or three years, students are paired with someone they would not normally see during the school day, Gertner said.

“The little buddies look up to their big buddies so much. They really get excited,” she said.

And for students moving up to fifth-grade from fourth, the transition from little buddy to big buddy is an exciting milestone. They take their responsibility for the kindergarteners very seriously, Gertner said.

Sometimes the buddies have recess or lunch together; they have also enjoyed themed activities. For example, last fall Gertner invited several quilters in town to lead different activities integrating geometry and American history. The students made five or six quilts which were raffled at the school's winter concert, and the money donated to the Red Cross.

During the weeks leading up to Christmas, the buddies made stained glass art, which was displayed in the cafeteria windows at Pen Bay Medical Center.

The Winter Fun Day was the first organized outdoor activity for the group, Gertner said. The main goal was to encourage children and their families to stay active during winter. Activities included a sled race, where big buddies pulled their little buddies around an oval course; a relay race in snowshoes; snow art with spray paint; and playing on the playground equipment.

The day's big attraction were Ben Hoops, of Blockhouse Pursuits in Lincolnville, and seven of his 18 sled dogs. Hoops spoke to the students in the gym before they went outdoors, showing his dog sled and explaining how it worked. He described the order of the dogs in the team – he typically sleds with eight dogs – two lead dogs in the front, swing dogs in the middle and wheel dogs in the back. The lead dogs have to be smart and fast enough to stay out in front of the team, Hoops said. The swing dogs can be younger dogs in training or more experienced ones, and the wheel dogs do not have to be very smart, but they must be strong, because they take more of the weight of the sled than those in front.

He said the most important thing for the person driving the sled is to hold on tight.

Hoops and his wife, Aimee Leclerc, have been sledding for 10 years, and they also offer full- and half-day tours with extra-wide sleds that can accommodate two or three passengers. Although all their dogs are house-trained, 17 of the 18 live outside in a kennel. They eat 6,000 pounds of high-protein, high-fat kibble a year. “We buy it by the ton,” Hoops said.

Pups can put on a training harness at 3 to 4 months old, and they move around in the team until Hoops finds place where they perform best.

He said he likes sledding because of the relationship with the dogs and “the snuggle factor.”

Buddy Sled Race
Big buddies pull their little buddies around an oval course in a Winter Fun Day race at Hope Elementary School Friday, Feb. 28. (Video by: Sarah E. Reynolds)
Snowshoe Relay
At Hope Elementary School's Winter Fun Day, little buddies and big buddies, one wearing snowshoes, the other not, enjoy a relay race. (Video by: Sarah E. Reynolds)
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