Our Jaguar Journey




The following history of Desert Ridge High School (DRHS) is a fascinating, evolving, and truly memorable, account of DRHS as gathered from alumni, yearbooks, newspapers, teachers, students, staff, and families. This valuable account is told from a point of pride and admiration for a school and its community that continues to positively impact student success both in and out of the classroom each and every day!


Sometimes, we all need new beginnings. At a brand new school, surrounded by hundreds of new faces from diverse areas, there was a chance to remake ourselves. ‘I took the opportunity to attend this school so I could start over and make a new name for myself,’ said Thomas Johnson.  So be it. 


And sometimes, we all need more room. Faced with crowded trailers at Highland High School and rampant growth in the district, our school provided everyone with a bit more space to breathe.  And it provided students here with a unique opportunity to be the first: first to succeed, establish traditions, and build a community and sense of identity.  We did all of that and more.  We elected officers for the first time; we published a fine newspaper; we sent athletes to state in swimming and wrestling.  In our own individual ways, great or small, we all contributed to our new school record.” (La Cordillera 2003; New School Record; Volume 1; p. 3; DRHS first yearbook)



Desert Ridge High School was established in August of 2002. It was the fourth comprehensive high school the Gilbert Public School district established and is the only high school geographically located in the town of  Mesa and not Gilbert. The school opened its doors with  900 students that included freshmen through junior students. The first graduating class was the 2003-2004 seniors having a May 2004 graduation. The school originally housed students from both Desert Ridge High School and Canyon Valley (alternative school.) The school was dedicated on November 7, 2002 with Mr. Daniel Coombs being the first principal to lead Desert Ridge High School.


Mission of DRHS:

Foster responsible and productive citizens by promoting academic excellence and inspiring an attitude of inquiry and enthusiasm for lifelong learning, while meeting the ever-changing needs of our diverse population.



The mascot is a black jaguar with school colors being cardinal red and black. The distinctive black jaguar is a melanistic jaguar that is a color morph. Jaguars with melanism appear entirely black, although their spots are still visible on close examination. A community group made up of former principal Daniel Coombs, students, parents, and teachers selected these symbols.



In 2004, DRHS was the first and only  school in Arizona to host the fully certified PLTW (Project Lead the Way), an engineering program sponsored by Intel and directed by former master teacher Sylvia Grace whose previous career was with IBM and Dell as a process engineer. Ray Parker, writer for the The Arizona Republic relays an event from December 10, 2005 at 12:00 pm when Mrs. Grace received the Milken National Educator Award in part for her contributions in bringing PLTW to DRHS. “For about 30 minutes, Sylvia Grace shared her glory Friday inside the Desert Ridge High gym full of hundreds of cheering students. Grace said she knew something was up because Arizona's superintendent of schools, Tom Horne, sat down front with other dignitaries.But then her name echoed over the public-address system: The chemistry and engineering teacher had been honored with a $25,000 Milken National Educator Award. "You don't find us. We find you," Jane Foley, senior vice president of the Milken Family Foundation, told the crowd as she revealed the reason for the morning assembly at Desert Ridge, a Gilbert Public School that is in Mesa.There are 100 educators honored nationwide, with Grace being the only Arizona recipient. Looking at bit stunned, her eyes wide open, Grace explained that teaching had been her second career and made others almost believe anyone could be like her. ‘I totally can't believe it's me,’ she said. But a stellar teacher must possess or acquire certain essentials: smarts, a little humor and the patience of Job. Grace was honored for demonstrating all these attributes in the past four years at the school, where she started a pre-engineering program called Project Lead the Way. ‘She can relate to being a high school student,’ said senior Elyse Pauda, 17, who took honors and Advanced Placement chemistry classes from her. Senior Danielle Reeder, 17, remembered blowing up Gummy Bears during one experiment. ‘She's funny and creative,’ Reeder said. Unlike most teaching awards, the Milken awards have no formal application process. Instead, educators are recommended by an expert panel appointed by each state's Department of Education.”




Arizona Thespians Gold Honor Troupe past nine years

AIA Superior One Acts 2011-2012 , 2012-2013

AIA/Arizona Thespians State Theatre Champions (Central Division) 2010

Arizona Thespians Teacher of the Year 2011 Jenell Riordan


Band, orchestra and chorus:

IN 2004-2005, Band, Orchestra and Chorus all received excellent and superior in state competitions. All three groups earn excellent or above ratings in the California 'Heritage Festivals'.Chorus invited to be opening performer for visiting college choirs.




DRHS is an AVID (Advanced via individual determination) school with classes at every grade level. DRHS  AVID started in 2007 and just graduated its 5th class. AVID’s mission is to:

“Close the achievement gap by preparing all students for college readiness and success in a global society. Simply, AVID trains educators to use proven practices in order to prepare students for success in high school, college, and a career, especially students traditionally underrepresented in higher education.

math skills across all content areas throughout the entire campus, in what we call Schoolwide AVID.”


PBIS (Positive Behavioral Intervention & Supports): 

A program that fosters a positive culture. PBIS put down roots in 2014 and currently includes JAGS CARE Time, JCI, and JET. JAGS CARE stands for Community, Academics, Respect and Excellence. JAGS CARE time is a additional class period that occurs most Wednesdays where teachers check a student’s progress in every class with time also allotted for students to make up tests, receive teacher and peer tutoring, and involve themselves in additional enrichment and intervention systems. JCI (JAGS CARE Intervention) began in the spring of 2015 and is a tutoring program that occurs on Tues. and Thurs. during the first thirty minutes of lunch. Students that do not complete their homework or have a failing grade are given a pass by teachers to participate in this supportive program. PBIS has helped students to make significant academic gains and has built personal responsibility for high school and postsecondary success. JET (Jaguar Excellence Team) is a team that receives referral from teachers and parents regarding students who need additional support in any area of their high school experience. This team’s goal is to discover and provide enrichment/interventions to be true to our school mission in preparing our students to be lifelong learners.


Air Force JROTC:

JROTC has classes is about leadership, military procedures and aerospace engineering.


2007/2008 - Distinguished Unit with Merit - AFJROTC Headquarters

2008/2009 - Distinguished Unit - AFJROTC Headquarters

2009/2010 - Distinguished Unit - AFJROTC Headquarters

2011/2012 - Outstanding Unit - AFJROTC Headquarters


School Year 2014/2015 DRHS Community Service Award 1st Place


Computer Programming:

In the spring of 2105, Mr. Robert Brandl’s computer programming class participated in a computer apps contest entitled: Spark App Awards. DRHS took home 3 of the 8 awards. First place- Application Design ($100 to each student) went to: Gabriel Gutierrez, Luke Domann, Taylor Fielding, Bryce Holst, and Sarah Mathis. Second place - Code Implementation ($50 to each student) went to Enoch Andersen and Nick King. The award for Google Selected “Favorite Application” (selected by senior engineer Jesse Chavez from Google Chicago) went to Dorian Waite, Joseph Soto, and Joseph Vargovich.




In 2002, the first dance was called the ‘Forthcoming’ dance in place of a ‘Homecoming’ dance because DRHS did not have any returning seniors. It was held in the gym and was promoted through the first every spirit week.


During the 2003-2004 inaugural school year, clubs on campus were started and gained momentum. The All-Stars and the Extra Mile Club reached out to the homeless and donated items to various shelters. The FFA had thirty plus members and raffled off half a cow.


In 2005 community service charitable fundraising efforts increased and the iconic spirit chain event raised $3000 that year for local families in need with $700 was donated for world relief efforts for Tsunami victims.


"Best Buddies" chapter receives recognition as Outstanding Chapter in 2005. This student award, which teams students from regular and special education places the group within the top 10 Best Buddies in the country. In 2013-2014, the DRHS Best Buddies’ chapter was ranked #1 in the state of Arizona.


National Honor Society:

2010-11-DRHS Community Service Award-1st Place

2012-13-DRHS Community Service Award-1st Place

2013-14-DRHS Community Service Award-1st Place

2014-15-DRHS Community Service Award-2nd Place



DRHS moves up to 5A athletic and interscholastic competition for 2005.


Cross Country:

In 2005, the girls’ cross country team won the school’s first ever regional  championship and the marching band won its first ever Superior State rating.


Boys’ Baseball:

Two state baseball championship titles.

Girls’ golf:

Multiple conference championships.

2 state runner ups.

1 State championship.


Modern Languages:

The Modern Language Department has attended the ASU language fair for the past 2+ years. DRHS German students have won the following awards:

Spring 2014:

1st Place for impromptu situation (Christian Francisco, Morgan Nuckols, and Matt Bartreau)

2nd Place for known play performance (Christian Francisco, Morgan Nuckols, Matt Bartreau, Reed Cottrell, Bruno Meuer, Davis Scott, Morgan Sappington, and Jared Panessa)

Spring 2015:

1st Place for original play performance ( Alyssa Wiser, Jared Panessa, Bree Carita, Lone Birkeland, Melanie Caldwell, Davis Scott, Lynsey Bentley, Haley Ramsey, Leah Crist, and Tia Neal) (FYI- The class wrote their own play and it received rave reviews from the judges. Their performance was awesome too!)

2nd Place for impromptu situation (Alyssa Wiser, Jared Panessa, Bree Carita, and Lone Birkeland)


1st Place - French Novice Recitation at ASU Language Fair (2014)

2nd Place and 3rd Place - French Novice Recitation at ASU Language Fair (2015)


ASU Fair 2010 -  Teri Otto received a 2nd place for poetry recitation and Chris Wilcox received an honorable mention for poetry recitation.


Teacher, Staff and Student Notables:

Two people from our original staff, Mr. Kevin Hearne and Mr. Greg Hauck, made a tremendous impact at DRHS and are currently impacting others on a national stage. Mr. Hearne who taught English and was the yearbook class/originator sponsor of our yearbook is now a published author of seven novels. Mr. Hauck who was the athletic trainer and sports medicine teacher is currently the head trainer for the St. Louis Cardinals. Prior to teaching at DRHS, he was with the Oakland Athletics.


Jake Dalton Barrett is a current (2015) professional baseball pitcher for the Arizona Diamondbacks. He played on the DRHS baseball team and graduated in 2009 moving on to Arizona State University.


A momentous and historical event happened during DRHS May, 2015 graduation. The many parents, relatives, staff, and district personnel were privileged to view this unparalleled spectacular act of courage and bravery when graduate, Christina Chambers, walked across the stage at Wells Fargo Arena to receive her high school diploma with walked being the operative word here. The reason this event was so monumental and historically relevant was because Christine, DRHS 2014-2015 Senior Class President, had been wheelchair bound for many years and brilliantly accomplished her goal of walking across the stage to receive her high school diploma. This act of unparallelled determination and grit, that included years of physical and mental preparation and toughness brought the crowd to its feet and gave Christine a much deserved standing ovation. Not only is Christine’s legacy to DRHS her contributions through student council as senior class president, but also to the community in terms of being a role model for unrelentless determination in the achievement of lifelong dreams and goals.


DRHS Awards Night:

DRHS continues to foster and grow additional programs that align with the above mission. One of the programs that was started in 2010 and continues to make a monumental impact on increasing excellence in and out of the classroom both academically, physically, and emotionally is the DRHS Awards Night. “DRHS Awards night is memorable…. it began with students of the year for those who were nominated several times for student of the month and each year we kept adding more awards for students contributions to DRHS for community service, all around awesome behavior, academics and athletics.  Jami (Spencer) and I  really wanted to recognize more students for more than just academics. Students now strive to be a part of this night which is why the awards night became very successful!   I want to say it started in May 2010 (just with student of the year) but I think our first actual awards ceremony was in 2011.” (Teacher Daleana McPherson)


2010-2011 School Year:

Highest GPA -


Maren Mangisi 4.6  and Shaun Sandstrom 4.6 - 9th

Erin Thomas 4.625 - 10th

Taylor Sanders 4.7 - 11th


Athlete of the Year -


Jordan Becerra 4.25 - 11th Football

Aliya Shirif 4.48 - 11th Track


Club Community Service Award -




Student of the Year -


Sonyet Blanding and Trevor Harris - 9th

Brenna Terlaan and Jake Rogers - 10th

Krystle Dabb and Miguel Lopez - 11th

Lauren Kothe and Chris Lambson - 12th


Spirit of DRHS Awards -


Bunger, Marilyn

Consiglio, Fil

Grippo, Kristin

Lynch, Julie

Nielson, Michelle

Riordan, Jenell

Spencer, Jami


2011-2012 School Year

Highest GPA -


Athena Trevino 9th

Brandon Eaton 10th


Michael Cohen 11th


Athlete of the Year -


Jordan Becerra 4.25 - 12th Football

Rachael Clark 4.42 - 10th Cross Country


Club Community Service Award -




Student of the Year -


Alec Hathcock and Kylee Lucas 9th

Kyle Snyder and Kayla Ricci 10th

Victoria Alexander and Jonathan Simiyu 11th

Krystin Phillips and Caramon Vest 12th


Spirit of DRHS Awards -


Sylvia Grace

Lisa Shupe

Steve Casey

Connie Henson

Tara Wakefield

Heather Jacobson

John Bier


2012-2013 School Year


Highest GPA -


Brown, Major 4.636 9th

Bebo, Ariana 4.6111 and Yanez-Waddell, Veronica 4.6111 -10th

Fransen, Savannah 4.6 and Gilbert, Delaney 4.6 11th


Athlete of the Year -


Cohen, Michael 4.82 12th Men's Soccer

Wiles, Kilean 4.29 12th Women's Soccer


Club Community Service Award -


NHS 1st, STUCO 2nd, JROTC 3rd


Student of the Year -


Brown, Major and Ballesteros, Mikaella - 9th

Acosta, Holden and Curtis, Carlee - 0th

Ocheltree, Caleb and Gibson, Taylor - 11th

Le Febre, Benjamin and Bear, Susannah 12th


Spirit of DRHS Awards -


Martina Ramirez

Maka Taufa

Robert Brandl

Greg Stafford

Nick Steinkemper

Mark Tawney

Angie Nicholls


2013-2014 School Year


Highest GPA -


Deguzman, Jason, Hamie, Haneen,Lynch, Kellen - 9th

Page-Bottorff, Camryn - 10th

Bebo, Ariana and Sanchez, Christian - 11th


Athlete of the Year -


Becerra, Marisa Cheer

Petty, Alex Boys Soccer


Club Community Service Award -




Student of the Year -


Walker, Abram

Rhoades, Kaylee

Pino-Bejarano, Ethel

Wagner, Daniel

Evans, Ashley

Verhoeven, Nikolai

Clark, Rachael

Sandstrom, Shaun


Spirit of DRHS Awards -


Trisha Cottrell

Mindy Weis

Linda Mennen

Rachel Pfoutz

Marinice Adams

Stefanie Fortney

Kat Barger

Dean Hayes


2014-2015 School Year


Highest GPA -


Brownlee, Benjamin - 9th 4.86

Lynch, Kellen - 10th 4.64

Brown, Major - 11th 4.69


Athlete of the Year -


Labella, Nick - 10th Baseball 4.5 GPA

Logan, Demauree - 12th Basketball 4.1 GPA

Mellow, Morgan - 11th Dive 4.2 GPA

Prince, Jacie - 12th Cheer 4.4 GPA


Club Community Service Award -


1st - JROTC - 60 students averaging 40.8 hours per student

2nd - NHS -  67 students averaging 32.8 hours per student

3rd - STUCO - 38 students averaging 31.1 hours per student


Student of the Year -


Brownlee, Benjamin  and Stilson, Hannah - 9th

Dobben, Michael and Graybill, Sydney -10th

Perreault, Victoria and Brown, Major - 11th

Sanchez, Christian and Cox, Valerie 12th


Spirit of DRHS Awards -


Wiltbank, Melissa

Kolsrud, Megan

Wattawa, Chris

Bunger, Marilyn

Grace, Sylvia

Website by SchoolMessenger Presence. © 2019 West Corporation. All rights reserved.