MONTGOMERY, Ala. – Neither bad weather nor car accident nor even feeling bad could stop Gennesaret Sealy from attending school every single day, nor could they stop her brother before her.
Sealy is set to graduate June 5 from Loveless Academic Magnet Program High School in Montgomery, Ala., with a perfect attendance record since she entered kindergarten 13 years ago.
That includes days when she didn't feel like getting out of bed, a time during high school when family car problems forced her to take a city bus to and from school and the day that she and her mom were in a car crash on the way to school.
"It happened all of a sudden and my first thought was I'm going to be late to school," Gennesaret said. However, the wreck turned out not to be serious and she still got to school on time.
When she had to ride a city bus to and from school, her mother said, "She didn't want her friends to see her riding the city bus."
But she went.
Gennesaret's brother, Sosthenes, also never missed a day of school from K-12.
News stories about "perfect attendance" students appear to pop up every year or two around the country.
Many schools have a tradition of issuing perfect attendance awards. Some districts have backed off that approach at the urging of health officials who worry that it might encourage students to come to school sick and infect others. After an Erie County, N.Y., health commissioner voiced that concern a couple of years ago, local school officials stopped giving awards for perfect attendance. Some other districts have begun issuing awards for excellent attendance instead, which allows for a few absences.
Hedy Chang with the San Francisco based national organization Attendance Works said her group believes attendance is important for children, particularly when it comes to making sure they are reading at grade level. She said she would not encourage children to go to school when they are sick, but "going to school 95 or 96 percent of the time is important."
She said she didn't have statistics on how often students maintain perfect attendance throughout school, "but it's unusual."
Gennesaret and Sosthenes' parents, Greg and Lynda Harris Sealy have stressed to their children the importance of being in school, but say they have not pushed the idea of perfect attendance.
Principal Sylvia Goshton said Gennesaret is a well-rounded teenager and not a bookworm who does nothing but go to school and study.
Gennesaret has a 3.71 grade point average, is a member of the National Honor Society and is on the high school debate team.
"I do actually do stuff other than study" she said.