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Montgomery Teen Nears Perfect School Attendance Record for 13 Years

Seniors Nikita Mani, left, and Stefanie Zaner walk to class. Stefanie, a straight-A student, will attend the University of Maryland. The past two years
Seniors Nikita Mani, left, and Stefanie Zaner walk to class. Stefanie, a straight-A student, will attend the University of Maryland. The past two years "have probably been the most stressful years of my life," Stefanie said. (By Sarah L. Voisin -- The Washington Post)
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By Daniel de Vise
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Cal Ripken, Iron Man of the Baltimore Orioles, played in 2,632 consecutive baseball games.

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Stefanie Zaner, Iron Kid of Darnestown, is closing in on her 2,340th straight day of public school.

The 18-year-old is unlikely to get the standing ovation afforded Ripken for his streak when she arrives at Northwest High School on Friday for the last day of senior classes in Montgomery County.

But hers is a rare accomplishment. Not once in 13 years was Stefanie marked absent: not for a cold, a family vacation, a college visit or a senior skip day. She once went on a freshman trip to Shanghai with the school marching band and boarded the plane with her clarinet only after securing written assurance from the principal that the trip would not count as an absence. She has never broken a bone, thrown up or caught the flu or even a bad cough, she said.

"There were days in high school when I thought she was too tired to get up," said Debbie Zaner, Stefanie's mother. "But by high school, it was up to her. It wasn't up to me."

Perfect attendance for even one year is an elusive goal. Schools are germ factories. Kids play hooky. Families travel. Religious holidays sometimes require attendance elsewhere. Even conscientious students take the occasional personal day to prepare for a test or catch up on homework.

An informal survey of 20 local school systems turned up just one other graduating senior with perfect attendance since kindergarten (officially, 180 days a year, for 13 years, although the exact annual total hinges on snow days): Kristen Waddle, 18, of Brentsville District High School in Prince William County. A third student, Austin White of Mountain View High School in Stafford County, hasn't missed a day since first grade. There might be others.

Kristen's attendance effort in elementary school was nothing short of heroic: She showed up every day despite moving twice and changing schools three times. Staying home was boring -- or so she heard from her brother. There was a no-TV rule, strictly enforced.

"We could sit in our room and read. That was it," she said.

The Prince William senior remembers nearly ending her streak once or twice in high school from sheer exhaustion. An after-school job kept her out until 10 some nights.

"I have these days where I'm like, 'I do not want to be here,' " she said. "I'm just the kid who shows up on those days."

Austin, 18, thinks he knows the moment he decided nothing would keep him from school. It was about fifth grade, the night before a standardized test. "I was puking buckets, and my Mom asked, 'Do you want to stay home?' And I said, 'No, I've got to go to school, I've got to take the test.' "


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