A group of 80 teens from Desert Vista High School and 25 third-graders from the inner-city Wilson Elementary School District collaborated Tuesday at Desert Vista to learn and grow from each other. Community Counts, a group of student volunteers at Desert Vista, visit Wilson once a month to mentor and give a little extra attention to the 25 third-graders from families of the working poor. But once a year, the Desert Vista students bring Wilson students to Ahwatukee Foothills. "Today is a way to show the Wilson students where we are from," Community Counts sponsor Kathy Shamley said. "It is a way to encourage them to stay in school. With a 60 percent drop-out rate, one of the things we try to do is talk to them about how it's cool to stay in school." Wilson students spent the day at Desert Vista reading books, making crafts, playing outdoors and eating pizza with their older mentors. "Really the whole point is not just to understand that people are diverse, but that we have an obligation to see other people in our community and where they need help," Shamley said. The Desert Vista community came together this year to provide a special experience for the students. The business department collected over 150 wrapped toys and distributed three gifts to each student. The DECA club handed out toiletry bags and took pictures. The librarian handed out two books to each student that were donated by the National Honor Society. The dance department even gave away one pair of shoes for each student. "It's not just students, it's the whole community coming together," Wilson third-grade teacher Maki Wojcicki said. The Nazari family of Ahwatukee Foothills also donates pizza for lunch each year. Because the Wilson children are from families of the working poor, Shamley said they are often forgotten. Community Counts tries to help these students because they are not always remembered. "Just the interaction and getting to hang out with them is a lot of fun," Desert Vista junior Maci James said. "One was telling me how he has nine brothers and sisters today." In order to run the program, Community Counts receives a grant from the city of Phoenix that pays for transportation and cameras, as well as a grant from the Tempe Educational System that will allow the group to visit the Phoenix Zoo this spring. "The city has really been instrumental in making this happen," Shamley said. The program also would not be possible without its award-winning sponsors. This year Shamley was named a winner of the Phoenix Mayor's Partnership Award for her work with Wilson. Wojcicki was named a Rodel Scholar by the Rodel Foundation for her work with inner-city kids. Corinne Frayer can be reached at (480) 898-7917 or cfrayer@aztrib.com.

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