Fairfax student finishes school with perfect attendance

In her 13 years in Fairfax County schools, Catherine Overberg never had a sore throat or a fever. At McLean High School this year, she skipped “senior skip day.”

From kindergarten through her high school graduation last week, Overberg never missed a day of school.

“It’s in me to show up,” she said. “It’s what I’ve built my character on. I’m that friend you can rely on.”

Overberg is among the few students in the Washington region each year who achieve the feat, local school officials said. Perfect attendance is so rare that most school systems don’t track such data over a student’s entire career.

But the parents know. They know from the countless mornings getting ready for school, the beach trips timed around classes, the doctors’ appointments scheduled for late afternoons after dismissal. Parents such as Overberg’s mother know that for most teenagers the weekday morning temptation is to stay in bed.

“I never had to be one of those moms who yelled ‘Get up! Get up! Get up!’ ” Melissa Snyder Overberg said.

She attributed her daughter’s success to luck and logistics. Luck because her daughter has had good health. Logistics because they arranged the family’s calendar around school days.

The streak began at Spring Hill Elementary School, where Overberg’s principal, Roger Vanderhye, presented students at the end of the year with his PANDA award: Perfect Attendance No Days Absent. By 6th grade, Overberg earned a Giant Panda for flawless attendance through elementary school. Middle school at Longfellow was easy, she said, and then came high school at McLean. Again, she got lucky. None of her sports teams played away games that required travel to miss school.

By her senior year, Overberg knew she was close to perfection. The bad weather this winter didn’t hurt either.

“Snow days are a blessing,” she said. “I like them a little bit more than most students because I get more time off than I usually get.”

When most of the 400 seniors at McLean took a day off to skip classes, Overberg was one of 75 who stayed behind, but not only to keep up her attendance record. To be eligible to play in the softball division finals that evening, she and the other seniors on the team had to attend classes. They ended up beating Madison High School for the championship.

“That definitely made it all worth it,” Overberg said.

Next school year she’ll attend Christopher Newport University. On her college applications, she wrote an essay about how her goal of perfect attendance had made her a student who could be depended on to perform in the classroom. McLean Principal Ellen Reilly presented her with the school’s Cal Ripken attendance award.

But what about her twin brother, Christopher Overberg? He didn’t have perfect attendance, missing about a dozen days throughout his academic career to athletics injuries and orthodontics appointments.

T. Rees Shapiro is an education reporter.
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