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 with a perfect attendance record since she entered kindergarten 13 years ago. Principal Sylvia Goshton said Sealy has not missed a day or been tardy in high school. School records show she did not miss a day in kindergarten, elementary school or junior high school either.
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. They hurried through the police paperwork 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.
Attending school every day is a family tradition for the Sealys. Gennesaret's brother, Sosthenes, also never missed a day of school from K-12. He graduated in 2007 and is near graduation at Montgomery's Faulkner University.
Gennesaret Sealy plans to attend the University of Alabama in the fall and major in communications.
She said that with all the temptations of being on her own, it will be hard to maintain the perfect attendance record in college.
"As much as I can I'm going to try to be in class on time, but at the same time I'm going to have fun," she said.
Goshton said perfect attendance is a rarity at her school. However, it's not unheard of. 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 in 2010, 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.
Greg Sealy, a pastor and evangelist, is an immigrant from Barbados in the Caribbean, and says he understands the importance of getting a good education.
"The opportunity to go to school is God's gift to us," he said. "Our gift to God is to make the most of it."
Lynda Sealy said she learned the importance of a good education while growing up on a farm in Lowndes County.
"I had to work on the farm and I was not able to go to school every day. But I loved going to school," she said. Lynda Sealy said she completed high school and went on to junior college.
Going to school every day was "something she encouraged her children to do," she said. She said she attended every field trip with her children.
On those days when the weather was bad or maybe Gennesaret just didn't want to get out of bed and felt "same old routine" of going to school had gotten old, she often turned to her mother for encouragement.
"She would say you can't learn if you're not in school."
Goshton said Gennesaret is a well-rounded teenager and not a bookworm who does nothing but go to school and study.
"She is involved in so many things here ... She has a beautiful singing voice," Goshton said.
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.