Angela Marie Jones, a senior at McKinley High School, hasn't missed a day of school during the entire 12 years she has been a student in the D.C. public school system -- 2,160 days of rising at the break of dawn, dressing quickly and getting to class in time to beat the 9 a.m. school bell, rain or shine.
In a school system where truancy and dropout rates are high, most grades are low and some teachers miss as many days as do truant students, Jones' feat is no small one. Among the city's 5,000 high school seniors, Jones, 18, is the only one who has earned a perfect attendance record, officials said.
Superintendent Floretta D. McKenzie and other school officials honored Jones with a plaque, a watch and several other gifts at a special ceremony yesterday.
About 60 other students with good attendance records, mostly elementary school pupils, also were awarded gifts donated by businesses and service groups.
"The only days I didn't go to school were days when the schools were closed," Jones said, smiling broadly. "In order for you to have good academics, you have to be in school." Jones, an honor student with a 3.4 grade point average, plans to attend American University in the fall.
The difference between Jones and the students who sometimes skip school is motivation, she said.
"They don't have positive attitudes about themselves. Some think of any excuse not to go to school and their parents allow them to stay home if they don't feel like going. A couple of times I tried telling my mother I didn't feel like going to school, but that didn't work," she said.
The attendance rate in the elementary schools is about 93 percent, but the rate is 88 percent at the junior high level and 85 percent at the senior high school level.
Congress has given the schools about $1.5 million in recent years to counsel chronic truants and to buy computerized calling machines to alert parents when students don't report to class.
Thirty schools were represented at the ceremony at Roper Junior High School, 4800 Meade St. NE. Orr Elementary School, at Minnesota Avenue and Naylor Road SE in Anacostia, stood out, sending 11 students to the event.
Former Washington Bullets basketball star Wes Unseld, guest speaker at the event, said that "great students are like great athletes: they come to work on days that they don't feel good, whether they have aches and pains or not."