Christopher Simmons remembers one day -- just one -- in the sixth grade when he woke up with a cramp in his neck and thought about not going to school. He went to school that day anyway -- and every other school day from first grade through 12th.
Yesterday, Simmons and 29 other students who are graduating from high school with perfect attendance for one ore more of the last 12 years -- and at least a 3.2 grade average out of a possible 4.0 -- were awarded certificates by the D.C. public schools. They were dubbed this year's "Role Models" under a new program to promote good attendance and scholarship.
Although the schools routinely reward students for outstanding academic achievement, this is the first time good attendance and good grades have been combined in one award, according to Nona Johnson, the system's chief attendance officer.
Most of the students are their own best witnesses to the fact that good attendance reaps good grades.
Simmons, an 18-year-old senior at Roosevelt High School in Northwest Washington who will attend the Washington Bible College in Lanham next fall, has a 3.3 grade average. Lisa Thompson of H.D. Woodson High School, who had perfect attendance for two years, is graduating with a perfect 4.0 average. The crowd of parents and school officials who attended yesterday's ceremony gave her a standing ovation when it was announced that she received straight A's from the first grade on.
Thompson, the grand prize winner of this year's city's science fair, an avid runner, basketball and volleyball player and part-time model, said her friends always encouraged her to keep up her straight-A record.
"Woodson is just one of these schools with a lot of spirit. I had the whole Woodson behine me," said the 18-year-old Thompson, whose family has attended D.C. public schools for four generations. She plant to attend Syracuse University next fall.
The "Role Models" came from eight of the city's 12 high schools -- Roosevelt, McKinley, Woodson, Cardozo, Eastern, Anacostia, Dunbar and Wilson. Thirteen of the 30 winners attend McKinley.
Wilma Simons, a McKinley senior with a 3.7 average and perfect attendance for a year, said she thought McKinley's attendance rules -- stiffer than those elsewhere -- were responsible in part for McKinley's outstanding showing. Teachers of students who are absent more than three times must call the students' parents and they are required to come to school to discuss the matter, said McKinley principal Athel Q. Liggins.
"That has cut down the class-cutting considerably and kept students from arbitrarily staying out of school and destroying themselves," Liggins said.
Carol Blackman, another McKinley student who is graduating with a 3.7 average and three years of perfect attendance, said she knew from the time she was little that she wanted to be a physician and would have to do well in school.
At McKinley, she enrolled in an intensive chemistry program that required three years of chemistry, three years of math, two years of biology and a year of physics.
Blackman, who plans to attend the University of Pennsylvania, said she would have been interested in attending the District's new model academic high school had such a school existed when she entered senior high. "But I have no complaints about the education I received," she said.
Many students, like Pamela Cothran of McKinley, credited their parents with making sure they attended school. "On days I felt lazy, my mother was always there to make sure I wasn't slack," said Cothran, McKinley's salutatorian who was not absent in two years.
Johnson said she intends to have these "role models" visit various schools to promote scholarship and good attendance.