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Friendly competition helping to save lives in Arizona

Gold celebrating the best of GPS!

A college of four photos showing students from Highland and Desert Rigdge High Schools.As much as history, tradition and legacy are valued at Gilbert Public Schools, the same can be said for our commitment to service. GPS students, families, educators and staff have for years supported causes that help those in need. For some students, the opportunity to serve starts at school.

“Service is one of our foundations. That’s what we do here. At Highland, it’s always been a priority. We do service and help those that we can, whether that’s on our campus or in the community,” said Marissa Lopez. 

Lopez teaches at Highland High. She also graduated from the school and has many fond memories of serving alongside her classmates. 

“I remember the first drive that I walked into as a junior,” she said, “It was the students who got excited about it and then motivated us to get excited about it.”

As a student, Lopez enrolled in Guidance and Counseling 105, also referred to as GC105. Bob Allen started the service-learning class years ago to help students earn volunteer hours for college and scholarship applications. The class model is now being replicated at high schools across GPS and schools elsewhere. Allen and Lopez are co-teaching the class together.

“We had the opportunity 20 years ago to turn GC105 into a class, where students would meet once a week to plan major projects and events like blood drives, food drives, Relay for Life and Make-a-Wish Week. On the other four days, students during their release times traveled across the Valley to do service projects,” Allen said.

Highland students have consistently rallied around doing blood drives. For the past 15 years, the school has been awarded by Vitalant for having the most total donations in Arizona at the high school level. This year’s Blood Drive Committee is vying for the sweet 16 and hoping to set a new school record for donations.

“It’s a very high goal, but it’s something that we are striving for,” said Lina Khuu, the committee’s leader and a Highland High senior.

The school is facing some friendly competition this year, because the award-winning team at Desert Ridge High is also looking to bring in the most total donations for a high school. While they were in different divisions last year, only 97 donations separated their final totals. 

“We’re working very hard to break their streak,” said Brooklyn Kimball, a senior at Desert Ridge High.

At Desert Ridge High, the National Honor Society organizes the campus and community blood drives every year. Irene Vucko, a teacher at the school, advises the students. 

“We’re a little group here, but I feel like these kids are mighty. They do a lot. I’m super proud of them,” Vucko said.

Similar to Highland, the students work together to recruit donors, partner with local businesses and develop a marketing plan. They reach out to their peers, families and even surrounding elementary schools for help.

“It’s cool to realize that every person we get to signup and donate, that’s helping to save three lives,” said Kendall Heredia, a Desert Ridge High senior. 

By working with Vitalant, donations from both schools go directly to helping people in our community. It’s a gratifying experience that keeps many donors coming back.

“Vitalant is awesome. They send you a text telling you what’s being done with your blood. It doesn’t happen until a few days after the drive, so sometimes it’s already out of your mind. The text just solidifies that you are actually saving lives… like real people out there,” Kimball said.

Vitalant offers training and events for the school volunteers running the drives. At these programs, students hear directly from those who’ve benefited from blood donations.

“It doesn’t sink in until you hear someone in-person. It’s very rewarding,” Khuu said. 

Saving lives is the ultimate goal, but there are some additional benefits for students who participate in Vitalant blood drives. Student coordinators have the opportunity to win a college scholarship from the Diamondbacks. During the summer, donors ages 16 to 19 have the chance to win a brand new car. Then there are the life lessons that students are gaining along the way.

“Honestly, it’s prepared me for these larger-than-me type of situations. It’s kind of like this first case of how my actions are impacting more than myself and my family,” Kimball said, “It’s preparing me to go to college and be able to contribute to the greater good.”

Learn more about the programs offered at Desert Ridge High and Highland High by scheduling school tours today!

Written by Kailey Latham, Photos: DRHS, HHS