High school pays unforgettable tribute to staff’s service dogs

Blaine High School in Blaine, Minn. has a couple of extraordinary staff helpers. So they decided to recognize them by featuring them in the staff section of the school's 2014-2015 yearbook.

The helpers, by the way, are dogs.

A student at BHS posted a picture of the yearbook pages to Tumblr; we asked the school for the full versions to best illustrate how awesome these dogs look.

the staff dogs of Blaine High School
the staff dogs of Blaine High School

The dogs belong to two of BHS’s teachers: Rebecca Thomas, a hearing-impaired teacher who teaches American Sign Language, and Vicky Camacho, a paraprofessional in the special education department. Thomas’ dog Carmel has been coming to school every day for nine years to help her as she teaches, while Camacho’s canine Dakota comes in once a week to work with the students.

The dogs have been included in the BHS yearbooks for a couple of years, and their place in the school is greatly appreciated, Thomas said.

"The students love seeing the service dogs in the yearbook," she told Yahoo Canada.

"They do help with conversations.  I've had many people approach me and ask 'Is that your famous dog?'  It gives me an opportunity to explain what she does for me and how to work with service dogs.  My students are briefed on what to do and how to work with a service dog on day one with me in the classroom.  Seeing her picture in the yearbook allows them to show their relatives, friends, and others and educate them as well.  It's a win-win for all."

"Rebecca is an amazing teacher," Deb Maaske, a teacher in BHS's technology department, told Yahoo Canada.

"When you see her class, everyone is silent, and the dog is sitting there perfectly still and silent as well."

The recognition is important for the dogs, but it also helps the students. Lynn Florman, head of the special education department at BHS, told Yahoo Canada that having Dakota’s picture in the yearbook sends a positive message throughout the school.

“I think it recognizes the important role that Dakota and her owner, Vicky, play in the lives of our students,” she said.

“There are also many students outside of the special education department that know Dakota and enjoy stopping to say hello to her. Sometimes the unique services they provide are not understood or valued by others, so seeing them recognized in such a public and memorable way as a yearbook sends a strong message to all that they are an integral part of the team that supports our students.

It also means a lot to Florman to have Dakota profiled as a representation of what matters to her and her department within the school.

Personally, it warms my heart,” she said.

“I have seen distraught students battling traumatic memories cling to her in their darkest moments, and shy students learn to approach her only to be completely accepted and loved for who they are, giving them confidence to approach their own peers. I have watched her walk away from angry students who learned that their behavior was inappropriate when even someone as patient as Dakota wouldn’t tolerate it. In many ways, Dakota represents the best qualities we hope to teach our students:  unconditional love and acceptance, patience, and tolerance for those who are different.”

Dakota’s such a star at the school, in fact, that she got her own section in a separate part of the yearbook when she had puppies.