Desert Vista High School administrators from Ahwatukee Foothills ventured Wednesday into the Gila River Indian Community to meet incoming reservation students.
They set out boxes of submarine sandwiches, chips and 90 bottles of water. They filled a table with student handbooks, club lists and class schedule forms.
Then they waited.
A bus had been sent to gather families for the firstever student orientation on the reservation, but none could be found.
The outreach — part of an action plan that Desert Vista staff developed in May after reservation students complained of mistreatment — was fizzling. But event organizers refused to give up.
"The bus is waiting as long as it takes," said Mary Frances Lewis, Tempe Union High School District governing board member.
Gila River education director Myrtle Charles even got off the bus, knocked on doors and provided updates on her cell phone. Finally, she found the mother of 16-year-old Desert Vista junior Martin Lopez and relayed the message.
"We got one!" Gila River employee Vanessa Girard announced to the group waiting at Gila Crossing Community School near the Lone Butte neighborhood that feeds into Desert Vista.
Desert Vista principal Joe McDonald, his three assistants and two Native American Club advisers waiting in the small gymnasium cheered. Soon Tracy Lopez arrived, and the general orientation turned into a personal question-andanswer session about her son.
"This meeting is a good idea," Lopez said. "And this is a new year."
Many things will be new for reservation students when Desert Vista opens Monday.
Lone Butte families in the 520 area code will have a tollfree hotline so they can call Desert Vista without longdistance charges.
"Always feel free to call," McDonald told Lopez. "If we don’t have the answer, we’ll find somebody who does."
Lone Butte students also will have a revived American Indian club to join. And Desert Vista assistant principal Bob Cox said the school might open its gymnasium so reservation students can play basketball when their buses arrive early each morning.
Unless, of course, they want to take advantage of the tutoring that has always been available before school.
Despite the new action plan, Cox said Desert Vista has always been concerned about its reservation students.
"This is an issue we’ve been concerned about for at least eight or nine years," he said. "We do our best to help all kids do the best they can, and that’s always been our philosophy."
Claim filed: Loretta Avent, a former Desert Vista High School security officer who lobbied for Gila River students, filed a $1 million notice of claim with the Tempe Union High School District. Avent was fired in May on allegations of insubordination after Avent obtained an injunction against harassment that named Desert Vista principal Joe McDonald.