13-year road to perfection

Attendance: Four Anne Arundel County high school seniors near graduation, having missed none of the 2,340 days of their educational careers.

May 29, 2001|By Rona Kobell | Rona Kobell,SUN STAFF

Over the years, there were mornings they didn't want to go.

They had colds, headaches, stomach pains. Sometimes they sat up in bed, awake in a woozy daze, wondering what would happen if, just this once, they stayed home.

But in 13 years of school, Noelle Mack, Gregory Garrison, Tiffany Turan and Daniel Marshall never found out. The four Anne Arundel County seniors have never missed a day of school. By the district's count, they've attended class all 2,340 days that school has been held since they entered kindergarten in the late 1980s.

The seniors chalk their record up to good habits and simple routine. Recognition has never been the goal.

"You get up and brush your teeth. You get up and go to school. ... There is not a day that there's a reason that I don't have to be there," Mack said.

But the feat is a triumph for North County High School in Ferndale, where Mack and Garrison attend, and for Northeast High School in Pasadena, where Turan and Marshall are students.

It has also stunned county and state officials.

"I've been here 17 years, and I don't remember a year when we've had four" in the district, said Nancy Jane Brown, a county schools spokeswoman. State schools Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick said that usually fewer than five Maryland students receive the honor in a year.

This year, the only other student Grasmick's office is aware of is Jasmine Evans of Hammond High School in Columbia.

So what's the story?

Family tradition

In Mack's case, the perfect record appears to run in the family genes: her brother, Henry, now a junior at University of Maryland, also never missed a day of his public school career. Her mother, an administrator in Grasmick's office, said she hasn't missed a day of work since Noelle was an infant.

"Knowing the emphasis that her family puts on education and commitment to responsible work habits, I'm not surprised," said North County Principal Patricia J. Gronkiewicz of Mack, who is the Student Government Association president.

Gronkiewicz added: "Noelle is pretty much the epitome of, `If you want to get something done, give it to a busy person.'"

Marshall reported that his sister Jennifer, a junior, has not missed a day yet. Garrison's mother, Shirley, said her other three sons had excellent, if not perfect, attendance in school. And Garrison's father, who grew up in Baltimore, also claims a perfect school attendance record.

Turan was not available for comment.

But the success is less about genetics than about will.

Headaches, colds, snow

Plenty of times, Marshall said, he would wake up with a headache. Sometimes, Garrison said, he would feel a cold coming on. And Mack remembers a particularly tough day in fourth grade when she awoke with a sour stomach. She went to school that day, even though she remembers throwing up and spending the afternoon in the nurse's office.

Shirley Garrison remembers encouraging her son to skip a day during a blizzard last year: She didn't want to drive him. He threatened to walk, and eventually hitched a ride with a neighbor - even though the school wasn't marking students absent because of the weather.

"He'd just seen a lot of bad kids in the neighborhood, and he wanted to make something out of his life," Shirley Garrison said.

The Garrisons, who live in Brooklyn Park, rewarded their son for each year he made the honor roll and maintained his perfect attendance record. When he was young, the gifts included trinkets and small cash rewards. When he was older, they took him to Ocean City and installed a swimming pool. This year, they bought him the tags for his motorcycle.

But Gregory Garrison said the reward of an education was sufficient incentive.

"I just got up and went," he said. "I wanted the best education I could get. So I just dragged myself out of bed and got up."

Garrison said he wasn't thinking about recognition for the accomplishment until this year. And even then, he almost didn't get it.

Glitch in the record

School records showed he had one absence in ninth grade. But his mother recalled that there had been a field trip on the day in question, and that he had been marked present in homeroom. She ransacked the house for the report card to prove it.

And if you thought the face of perfect attendance had its nose buried in a book, think again. All three are good students, but they have other interests. Marshall, an athletic sort bound for University of Maryland, Baltimore County next year, is on the cross country, wrestling and tennis teams. Mack, in addition to her leadership of the Student Government Association, played lacrosse for three years. Garrison, who is planning a career as an electrician, plays soccer, baseball and softball in local leagues. All three have part-time jobs.

But they are not immune to temptation. Friends tried to persuade Mack to skip class with them on Senior Hook Day, a yearly tradition in which seniors skip school for a trip to an amusement park. She declined.

As she thumbed through hair magazines a few hours before the prom, her cellular phone chirping in the background, Mack outlined her typical morning for the past four years: up at 6:15 a.m., out the door by 6:45 a.m., at school by 7:15 a.m.

It's a tall order for someone who says she is not a morning person. And next year, when Mack attends Frostburg State University, the routine will evaporate.

Will she extend her perfect record? Her brother, a Terrapins cheerleader majoring in criminal justice, acknowledges that he has strayed at times from his. But not terribly, and not as much as some of his buddies.

"My roommate, he'll look at the clock and say, `I'm not going to class,'" Henry Mack said. "But I just get up and go. It's like a routine. It has to be a routine."

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