Students at Desert Garden Montessori School in Ahwatukee Foothills have a message for the thieves who made off with half of the school's copper sign this week: "Robber stay out for good."

So it says in the corner of a temporary paper sign students in the school's first through third grades drew as a replacement.

Shetal Walters, the school's owner and director, said staff noticed that the left half of the sign, which looks south over Warner Road just west of Interstate 10, was missing on Wednesday morning. That day, she called the students together to discuss the theft.

"Our loving home and environment was hurt by somebody who would steal something from us," Walters said.

She believes it was taken for the resale value of the copper. The school - a nonprofit that operates via tuition and fundraisers - has insurance, albeit with a $1,000 deductible. The money comes at the expense of school programs and teachers' pay, Walters said.

"It's huge. My staff has not had raises in three years," she added.

Marti Player, the school's executive assistant, said Desert Garden already has had to scale back because of the economic downturn. Enrollment has dropped from 350 to 250 students, she said.

"I honestly got a tear in my eye when I saw it," Player said of the missing sign. "A thousand dollars for a nonprofit is tough."

It's not the first time copper thieves have hit Ahwatukee in recent days. Late last month, the Hawg ‘n Dawg Express restaurant, at the southwest corner of Equestrian Trail and Warner/Elliot Loop, had its air-conditioning unit destroyed by thieves who cut out the copper coils.

Lt. Mark Tallman, a Phoenix Police Department spokesman, said on Wednesday that the thieves who hit the restaurant had not yet been caught.

Walters said Desert Garden's sign has been up since the school opened at 5130 E. Warner Road about 10 years ago. The sign may have been stolen by "desperate people in desperate times," she said.

"I hope it goes for something good like food and not for drugs," Walters said, adding that having the students draw up a new sign has been therapeutic for them.

"The goal of making that sign is to share with the community that it's not going to break our spirit as a school."

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