Monday, May 21, 2018
Education

Four graduates tell of perfect attendance since kindergarten

TAMPA

They never took a sick day. Never played hooky. Since kindergarten, they never missed a single day of school. They are seven students who recently graduated from high schools across the county. At the state-required 180 days per year, they each have heard the school bell ring at least 2,340 times. How did they do it? Some say a parent motivated them. Some claim a love of learning. Some fell into a habit. We caught up with four of the students — before they head off to college or work — to ask what motivated them to accomplish the feat. Below are excerpts from their written responses to that question.

People often ask Connor Vice how he never had a sick day. He credits a hardy immune system and luck. Illness always seemed to happen during weekends or vacations, he said. He credits his family for motivating him.

"I've had a passion for learning right from the start, really. A lot of people complain about going to school, but I've always enjoyed it. In 2009, when I was in the eighth grade, my sister graduated from Newsome High School with perfect attendance. That definitely motivated me to finish out strong. From that point it was really all or nothing. Instead of going to Newsome, I decided to get into the International Baccalaureate program at Strawberry Crest High School. The program was rigorous and demanding, and most of my peers would agree that missing one day of IB classes felt like falling behind on a week's worth of work.

My parents had always taught me to stay focused and pushed me to do my best. My dad always said that all you can ever do in life is: 'Be the best Connor Vice you can be.' They made a lot of sacrifices for me to be in the best schools in the county, whether it was Bevis Elementary, Randall Middle, or the IB program at Strawberry Crest, and the way I see it is that the best way I could ever repay them was to show up to school every day and take my future into my own hands."

• • •

Alyssa Elliott graduated from Robinson High School and says her mom is the reason she never missed a day.

"If I stayed home I would have had to do laps in the pool while the moon was still out and clean the house. School was the better option.

Every morning it's 'RISE AND SHINE' at 5 a.m. Mom was already dressed to do her swimming laps at the pool. She would tell me a hot breakfast was the 'way to start the day.' She cooked breakfast for me every morning.

She got me into clubs, especially going into high school. She told me I needed to get involved; it's what school was all about. She told me it was important I learn to blend in with the other kids. And it was important to join clubs, the National Honor Society, and take drivers education. (Something about life skills.)

In elementary school, she would come to have lunch with me a few times a week before she went to work. All the kids would come over to sit with us. She scheduled any appointments at the crack of dawn, just so I would be able to get to school, or on days we were off school.

She pushed me to do better when she knew I could and was there to help me when I was having trouble, or on the computer emailing teachers before the sun woke up. She always drenched me with questions about my day. She kept telling me it was important to be there. (That life skills thing again.)

I know she gave up a lot to be there for me. Always sending me off with a hug and a kiss: 'Have a good day, and a I love you.' It started to get a little embarrassing in junior high. But she has always lived that I come first. The rest she would figure it out."

• • •

Austin White graduated from Plant High School and plans to pursue a career in music.

"At the end of my senior year, when I told people that I had never missed a day of school since kindergarten, they looked at me with surprise. Most would ask me how I did it, or if I was ever sick, and I would just tell them that I came to school every day because there was really no reason to miss school.

What really motivated me to go to school through the four years of high school were the Plant chorus and band. Those programs were amazing and they made the long school day a lot more bearable. These programs showed me what I wanted to do with the rest of my life, which is why I am going to the University of Tampa in the fall to study musical theatre. At the start of high school I never thought I would have the strength or dedication to actually continue my perfect attendance throughout the four years."

• • •

Riley McChesney graduated from Newsome High and is headed to the University of Florida.

"My journey toward perfect attendance began my first day as a kindergarten student in Iowa. As a 5-year old whose life had just been flipped from outdoor adventures all afternoon, to that of ABCs and story time, my priorities at the time did not necessarily include a goal such as perfect attendance, especially for the next 13 years in my life.

From a young age, my parents instilled in me the importance of education and being present at school. It wasn't until my high school years that those ideals fully sunk in and sparked my motivation to achieve such a unique goal. Prior to this, my daily focus was on not wanting to 'miss out' on lessons, activities or events. This most likely stemmed from my involvement in school clubs and organizations. Fortunately enough, it was not difficult for me or my family to organize our schedules in order to keep my attendance record unblemished. Doctor appointments were always scheduled after school, on days that I did not have soccer or other school activities. During my younger years, piano lessons and club meetings were always after school as well. Vacations were scheduled in the summer or during holiday breaks. Aside from the occasional health checkup, there were very few times that I've had to miss any of my club or high school soccer practices or games. I always detested missing games; I felt that I was letting my teammates down, plus I was left to deal with unhappy coaches upon my return.

As I got older and closer to my perfect attendance goal, I found that my teammates and coaches were some of my biggest supporters for seeing this through to completion. Having perfect attendance is something that I am very proud to have accomplished. It was definitely not easy, as only a handful of students accomplish it each year. I owe a great deal to those who have inspired me with words of encouragement over the years: my friends, teachers, coaches, parents and family. I want to recognize my mom with a special thank you for always encouraging me to take my vitamins."

The other three students are: Maleah McLean from Durant High, Samantha Seto from Freedom High and Matthew Brannon from Strawberry Crest High.

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