`Jake’ gets, gives, lots of love at Westfield High

WWESTFIELD – When Principal Dennis Duquette moved over from South Middle School to Westfield High School this year, he brought with him his dog Jake, much to the delight of students and faculty alike.
Every morning, Duquette and Jake go out to greet the buses. Duquette says he waves and says hello to all the students, and what do they say – “Hi, Jake.”
Sometimes he’ll say, “I’m here too, will you say good morning to me?”
He said Jake is a great companion, and a great way to make connections with the kids.
Jake, who is half border collie and half springer spaniel according to his veterinarian, is 4 ½ years old. His birthday is February 25. Duquette rescued him from a shelter in Auburn, Maine, when the dog was 11 months old. He has taken basic obedience, good canine citizenship, and service dog training as a therapy dog, which allows the school to have liability insurance on him.
These days, Jake has on a different bandana every day, because kids bring him a new one every day. At a recent event, he received a bag of bandanas from a parent.
Jake goes everywhere in the building except the cafeteria. He’ll follow Duquette into classrooms. Sometimes, he’ll peel off into a class by himself. Different teachers have water in their classrooms for him.
On Friday, he was scheduled to go on an ecology hike on the trails around the school with the environmental science class, who had requested him on Thursday. Almost every period, a student comes in to take Jake for a walk around the school grounds. Duquette said Jake has a way of making students and adults feel better. Sometimes teachers request Jake for certain classes as a reward, or as part of a discussion. In the office, he has his own signup sheet.
Jake has a slight limp these days from a torn tendon in his rear haunch. Duquette said he will be taking a three-week leave this fall to get it sewn up. During his recovery, he’ll be on a leash, and his activities will be curtailed a bit. Duquette said he’ll still bring him to school, though.
During the two years that Duquette was principal of South Middle School, the school gave out an annual Jake Award at the end of the year. Four eighth grade students – two boys and two girls – were honored for showing loyalty, kindness and courage to others.
“I made a big deal out of it,” Duquette said.
He said it was a way to recognize students for being good, genuine human beings. Teachers also gave out Jake dollars for random acts of kindness. Duquette plans to implement a similar program in the high school.
“Jake doesn’t care what you look like, the color of your hair,” Duquette siad. “He’s just going to love and accept you for who you are.”
Duquette says he introduces Jake as being kind, and through that brings up the subject of bullying.
Duquette said one day there was a boy sitting in the hall, waiting for the guidance counselor. His fists were clenched, he was tense and frustrated. Jake went right over to the boy, who put out his hand and started petting him. Duquette said he watched his whole body language change, and the tension leave him. Then he asked him how he was doing, and the student replied, “better.”
Jake is “so accepting, he brings joy to every walk of life, and such a diverse group of students,” Duquette said. Sometimes a very, very quiet student will ask to make an appointment to see the principal. When they sit down, the question will be, “Do you think I could take Jake for a walk?”
Going for a walk in the halls, teachers and students alike come out to talk and greet Jake. One teacher said she had a student who had never touched a dog before Jake.
Two students, Elizabeth and Courtney, sit down with Jake in the hall to pet him. They have also started bringing brushes to school to groom him.
“This is why I love this school year,” Elizabeth said.
One tenth grader, who had come from South Middle School, said things are better and calmer this year.
“Everyone’s doing what they’re supposed to now,” said the student.
Several teachers also commented on the stress-free environment in the school this year.
“I attribute it to a whole different focus by the administration this year,” Duquette said. “Suzanne (Superintendent Scallion) wanted me to come to the school and support the staff and the students, to create a positive environment, a climate of trust and respect.”
“Jake’s a piece of that,” Duquette said.

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