Gilbert Highland High emphasizes culture of blood donation to win statewide contest - East Valley Tribune: Gilbert

Gilbert Highland High emphasizes culture of blood donation to win statewide contest

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Posted: Monday, June 2, 2014 1:45 pm

Students at Highland High School in Gilbert continued its tradition of donating blood to a state organization, and they ended up donating more than any other school in the state.

United Blood Services (UBS) recently announced the winners in its annual High School Blood Drive Challenge in which 178 schools donated blood throughout the course of the 2013-14 school year. A total of 23,500 donations were provided by students during the most recent school year, with 817 of those coming from Highland High School.

That made the school the top donor in the state of Arizona, and essentially provided blood to all 58 hospitals UBS serves in the state of Arizona for two days, said Marketing and Communications Director Sue Thew.

“It’s huge for us, (but) it’s the Arizona patrons who really benefit,” she said.

This isn’t the first time Highland has participated in a blood drive, as teacher Bob Allen said blood donations have become an integral part of the school’s community service program. That was started more than a decade ago when students picked three components to focus their attention and effort on: fundraising, giving to the poor and needy, and saving lives.

The group’s guiding philosophy was, in essence, “let’s try to save our own students and families and community members’ lives,” and do so to the best of its abilities.

“If you’re going to be the best at something, why not be the best at saving lives?” he said.

Blood donations were a logical choice, and Allen said the students opted for UBS because it has the most direct local effect on the community.

Since then, Allen said he and program cohort/fellow Highland teacher Jill Schlessinger watched the students increase the number of donations they accrue per year until it hit the 817 figure this year, which is greater than the original target number.

From Allen’s perspective, the secret to the program’s success is a decision made early on to ensure all of the club’s projects remained in the hands of its members instead of the faculty.

“I think the most important thing we did was we set up committee chairs for every cause and we picked the kids who are the most passionate,” he said. “They have such a passion for the cause. They never give up.”

They also created a succession plan in which the committees feature at least one or two juniors who will take over during their senior years. One of the two who took over as a driver for the blood drive during the 2013-14 school year was graduate Cecilya Moreno, who said her incentive was to help out as many people as she could.

One of the main challenges she and fellow driver Gabriella Encinas faced was getting the students to donate due to a fear of needles from students. They got around that problem through a couple of different avenues, including coordinating with restaurants and organizations to provide incentives for donating blood; it’s easy to persuade a student to give a bit of blood in exchange for a free burrito later.

A second tactic was to emphasize the ephemeral nature of the experience for the student through a comparison of what happens to the blood after the withdrawal.

“It hurts you one time … that one time it hurts you it’s saving someone else,” she said.

An additional method was an emphasis on the competitive nature of the contest. The fourth and final drive of the school year occurred shortly after the conclusion of Highland’s athletic season, which Moreno said the club took advantage of to encourage more students to give.

“At Highland, I don’t know why, but we have an awesome spirit team,” she said.

For additional information about UBS, including locations to donate during what Thew said is a slow season for blood donations, visit

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