These kids get the perseverance award: Graduating without missing a day of school

For 13 consecutive years a select group of students has been solving math problems, diagramming sentences and completing science experiments — without missing a single day of school.

That’s roughly 2,340 school days in a row without being marked absent.

No skipping to go to a Rangers game. No fake sick day to go shopping with mom. Just work, work, work.

The reward? Usually a certificate of perfect attendance and the knowledge of a goal accomplished.

Going 13 years without missing classes wasn’t always easy, said Chelsey Bayles, a senior at Arlington Martin High School.

“I just thank God that I have good health,” she said. “Honestly, it’s been hard. There are some days you just don’t want to wake up and go to school, but you make yourself.”

Braxton Banning, 18, whose last class at Grapevine High was Monday, did face health challenges. But he did not miss a day of classes since joining a kindergarten class at midyear when his family moved to Colleyville.

At age 10 months, Banning was diagnosed with autoimmune neutropenia, a rare blood disorder that causes the body to kill its infection-fighting cells. Susceptible to infection, Banning was often isolated from others as a young child.

“I wanted to go to school so I could get to be with kids,” he said. “Neutropenia stopped me from doing so much when I was little. It was my way of getting back at it.”

Even after going into remission in second grade, Banning had to be careful about his health and carried hand sanitizer in his backpack and his Batman lunchbox. Classmates washed their hands often. Now Banning plans to send the perfect attendance certificate to his doctor, W. Paul Bowman, medical director of Cook Children’s academic pediatrics.

Of the 763 seniors in Bayles’ class at Martin, he is one of three to get a perfect attendance certificate, more than the usual number. Braxton had two classmates at Grapevine High who had no absences.

That is definitely not the norm. Several area school districts, including Birdville, Everman, Weatherford and Keller, had no students with perfect attendance this year.

Students who graduate without any absences tend to be motivated self-starters. Not surprisingly, they often have supportive parents and do well in school, educators say.

“They’re not missing out on instruction,” said Melinda Reeves, Martin’s principal. “They’re getting every bit of instruction from their teachers . . . and that’s what school is all about, learning and teaching.”

But many students aren’t focused on squeezing every bit out of their education, said Christian Henninge, 18, a senior at Fort Worth’s Western Hills High who had 13 years of perfect attendance. Students tried to tempt him to participate in Senior Skip Day, but he refused.

“I never thought it was worth it to give up this 13- year record,” said Henninge, of Benbrook. “It just seems students only go to school when they have to and they get off when they can. No one comes to school every day unless they want to learn something.”

Kolby Kelly, a senior at Arlington Lamar High, said once he got to the ninth grade without absences, “I just decided I’d keep going all the way through.”

He made it with no absences thanks in part to his involvement in the school’s drum line, said his mother, Beth Kelly. If he didn’t go to school, he’d miss out on practices and competitions.

“I think that was really crucial, to become involved. You want to be there; you’re part of a group,” she said.

Besides earning them attention, Bayles’ and Kelly’s zest for attendance seems to have set a good example. Each has a sibling a few grades lower who hasn’t missed a day.

Copyright 2009 Star-Telegram