Why Do We Honor Kids Who Have Never Missed a Day of School?

The other day my 12-year old daughter, Nina, got hit with a 24-hour flu bug that had her kneeling over the toilet all morning long. I felt bad for her, and don’t know for sure where she picked it up, but that’s not important. Right now I’m just waiting with bated breath, praying I won’t be the grippe’s next victim.

What I do know is I was rarely sick until my kids started attending school. I’m not complaining, mind you — I’m just pointing out a cold hard fact. Before then, I rarely was afflicted by influenza. And when I got the sniffles, more often than not it was because I was watching a tear-jerker, as opposed to suffering from a cold virus.

It makes sense. After all, because kids’ hygiene habits are generally worse than most — most — adults, they tend to pass bugs back and forth with reckless abandon; it’s basically second nature to them.

With that in mind, can somebody please tell me how any kid manages to get through an entire school year without missing a single day of instruction?

The Folly of Perfect Attendance Awards

They say perfect is the enemy of good, but that didn’t stop 20 or so kids at Nina’s 6th grade graduation ceremony from receiving awards for not missing a day of school this year. And although it’s not as bad as awarding kids $100 for avoiding truancy, just when did giving recognition for essentially doing what’s expected of us come into vogue?

Still, I wonder how so many kids can manage to have perfect attendance. When my kids bring home from school some nasty bug, I tend to contract the same debilitating illness about half the time.

It strains credulity to assume that kids with perfect attendance, who are in a high-risk environment on a daily basis, somehow managed to avoid contracting a plague of their own at least once during the school year. Then again, maybe these kids have bionic immune systems.

If you think that’s crazy, Nina’s school also gave a special attendance award to at least one child who had gone — get this — seven years without missing a single day of school. That’s right; kindergarten through 6th grade. Not one case of the stomach flu. Not one fever.

Apparently, that kid intends on matching the dubious feat of Rock Hill school district students Katelyn Jackson and Kyle Yarborough who were celebrated in the media for recently graduating without ever missing a single day of school during their entire 13 year academic journey. Really?

These kids shouldn’t be honored. If we’re being honest with ourselves, the odds are those kids went to school sick many times over the years — and are probably responsible for directly infecting hundreds of kids who would not have otherwise been afflicted. Taking it a step further, those same kids are also indirectly responsible for getting parents like you and me sick as well.

While the intentions may be noble, perfect attendance awards encourage some children to attend school when they are sick. Ironically, the end result is many more students — at least those with responsible parents — often end up missing school than they would otherwise after being infected by these contagious kids.

Think about that the next time your son or daughter begs you to send them to school even though they’ve got a nasty cough, or are running a fever. And if your child just tossed last night’s dinner into the toilet but insists they suddenly feel fine, don’t believe them — they’re not.

I wouldn’t ever knowingly send my kids to school under those circumstances. I expect you to show the same courtesy to me and my kids.

Photo Credit: goingslo



Comments

  1. 1

    carla says

    Totally agree, I had a little girl in our carpool tell me that she felt sick one day at pick up. I ask when did she start feeling bad. She said ” Oh, I felt bad this morning, my mom checked and I had a fever but she said I would feel better at school with my friends.” So burning with a fever and about to toss her cookies I put her in the van with my daughter and the other 5 girls and took her home!! needless to say my daughter missed school yesterday because she is so sick!!

    • 3

      carl says

      i guess that i fall on the other side of the argument. i don’t have a problem with commending children who don’t miss school. i think that as a child, your “job” is to go to school. i think that ideally that work ethic will encourage you to show up for your “job” once you’ve reached adulthood.

      i think it encourages kids to “suck it up” when they have minor issues, and can instill the importance of being dependable.

      fwiw, i won an award as a senior in highschool for perfect lifetime (13yrs) attendance. of my 2 younger sisters, they missed a combined 6 days throughout their schooling years.

      i’m not knocking those who feel otherwise, but that’s just how it was in my household growing up.

      • 4

        carl says

        and i won’t pretend that i NEVER went to school while sick. i know that i did

        i actually WANTED to miss school after awhile, and could not wait to catch the chickenpox. well, lucky me…i contracted it on the first day of spring break in the 6th grade…and missed ZERO days of school. dag-nabbit

  2. 5

    says

    I am almost ashamed to admit it after reading your post, Len, but I did get the perfect attendance award in 5th grade. I really don’t remember going to school when I was really sick, I think I just got lucky that year.

    One year when I went to my brother’s graduation, they awarded a guy in his class for never missing a day in all 13 years either. The superintendent was speechless. He couldn’t believe it.

    • 6

      Len Penzo says

      Hey, Tom, I’m not saying it can’t happen; I’m sure there are the odd cases where kids can go an entire school year without getting ill! But I am certain it doesn’t happen with the frequency that I see these awards being passed out.

      I refuse to believe any kid can make it two years in a row though, let alone 13. :-)

    • 8

      Len Penzo says

      Mine, too, cherie. I also get annoyed by parents who let their kids play outside when they know their kids are sick too. Am I insinuating some parents in my neighborhood do that? Well… yes, they do. Unconscionable in my opinion, but what can I do?

  3. 9

    says

    Grrrrr this used to make me SO mad back when my kids were in elementary/high school. I cannot count the number of times that I’ve commented to someone else’s kid, “You should really be at home in bed with that cold/cough.” I used to marvel too at these honorary attendance awards because, with 4 kids in the house, there always seemed to be someone at home sick with something!

    • 10

      Len Penzo says

      We ran through a rough patch last winter where one of my kids brought home something from school, which then got passed to my other child who then passed it on to my wife. And although I avoided the first run, soon after one of my kids brought home another bug and the process just repeated itself — although the second time around I got caught in the vortex. I think there was a run of almost 6 or 7 consecutive weeks where somebody was sick in the house.

  4. 11

    says

    Goes for work, too, except the way a lot of corporate sick days are set up, you actually have incentives not to use them (e.g. they take away from your time off).

    • 12

      Len Penzo says

      Yes, it does happen at work sometimes too. Although I am certain it is nowhere near as frequently as in the schools. Thankfully, a lot of folks — myself included — can usually work from home when sick if something absolutely positively has to be completed to meet a deadline. Although businesses that allow people to carry over sick time are probably adding to the problem!

  5. 13

    tracee says

    i hate those people that are always sending their kids in sick!!! for what, a piece of paper when they graduate that says they had perfect attendance for 13 years? what good does that do you in life. silly people. if i ever saw that mentioned on a resume i would actually shred it.

    • 14

      Len Penzo says

      Agreed, tracee. That piece of paper carries little weight down the road – so I’m not sure what the big deal is about getting one!

  6. 15

    proud mom says

    Sorry but I disagree. My son has received perfect attendance honors for 2 yrs running and I never sent him to school sick one time. He is very proud of those awards and so are we!

  7. 17

    says

    I was one of those kids. I just never got severely ill. I think I had perfect attendance from 6-12th grade. I never thought of it as a big deal. I just believed if you’ve got the sniffles, suck it up and show some dedication and perseverance to the task at hand. If I see this on a resume, I think it speaks to work ethic and a healthy lifestyle.

    Also, I sympathize with single parents who have no flexibility in their jobs such that staying at home with a sick kid means no paycheck. A sad truth is some people can’t afford to keep their kids home. As someone with tons of flexibility, my son will never go to school when he’s contagious though.

    • 18

      Len Penzo says

      But here’s the thing, slug, how do you know when a child is no longer contagious? Any child with sniffles is a high risk candidate for passing on colds to others.

  8. 19

    says

    Totally agree with this len, but I think that people are just looking to stack up awards while in school. It (the perfect attendance) seems a lot like the “participant” trophy in sports – you shouldnt just get something for showing up.

    • 20

      Len Penzo says

      Thank you, Jeff. I think Honor Roll is a more worthy award and, best of all, kids can achieve it regardless of how many days they miss from school — assuming they put in the work!

  9. 21

    Sheila says

    As someone who’s daughter has missed 3 days this year already (bronchitis – nasty!), you are welcome. :) I am hoping she will make it through the rest of the year healthy because it scares me to know how behind she probably is at this point. I will say when I spoke to her teachers they certainly encouraged me to keep her home as long as needed and said that she would be just fine. I hope they keep to their word and help her catch up!

    • 22

      Len Penzo says

      On behalf of parents and kids everywhere, Sheila: thank you. And I hope your daughter misses no more school days either.

      When our daughter was out for a few days with a nasty bug awhile back, we asked her teacher for her class curricula and homework and we picked up the stuff from the school office. She didn’t miss a beat even though she was ill.

  10. 23

    Sara says

    To piggyback on what slug said above, I agree that it depends on the parents’ situations at home. I went to school with two kids who won the 13-years-with-no-abscences award upon graduation, and the one kid (my neighbor, actually) had a stay-at-home mom who sent him to school sick all the time. This was stupid because it got me and other kids sick all the time. Why should we suffer so this kid can have perfect attendance? The other kid had a single, working mom, however, and him having perfect attendance doesn’t piss me off quite as much. His mom just needed a place to “store” him while she was in the office. Ideally she’d have found a babysitter, but I sympathize with her situation more.

    On the work ethic part, I disagree. First off, both of these kids I discuss above got horrible grades and never got into college, so where was their work ethic when they were studying or taking the SATs? Perfect attendance in school is not necessarily a measure of academic dedication. Secondly, part of working in an office is knowing when you’re so sick that you are no good to the organization and are better off staying home, so I would argue that a perfect school attendance record isn’t a desirable trait on a resume because it’s evidence that one lacks this basic decision-making skill. In fact, I think it’s downright irresponsible when co-workers come to work sick under the guise of being “dedicated” or a “workaholic.” What they really mean is that they’re so terrified that someone’s gonna uncover their ineptitude that they’re trying to seem conspicuously dedicated and hard-working. Perfect attendance in both school and work is often a sign of desperation, not dedication.

    • 24

      Len Penzo says

      Well, Sara, I can’t sympathize with folks who knowingly send sick kids to school. Period. In my opinion, they’re essentially poking a finger in the eye of responsible parents who do the right thing when their kids are sick.

      It’s not as if they usually don’t have options. For example, more often than not single or working parents can use sick and/or vacation days to care for her sick child, or at the very least get a babysitter.

  11. 25

    says

    My children very rarely missed school! My wife (nurse) made sure of that. Neither my wife nor I missed more than a few days in school or work. Do we need a reward? No, because it expresses our work ethic.

    • 26

      Len Penzo says

      I missed A LOT of school days due to illness when I was a kid. I was a sickly child.

      On another note, remember when most every kid got a 2-week vacation sometime during their early school career because of chicken pox?

  12. 27

    BV says

    I found this article hugely amusing for the simple fact that this, I think, seems to be a rather american thing. I have never heard of such a thing in the UK – it just seems impossible!

    Giving children an award for doing what they are suppoesed to do – turning up, seems absurd. Not to mention the obvious point that it’s no good if a kid turns up every day but is disruptive, or more importantly, doesn’t end up learning much.

    • 28

      Len Penzo says

      I’m not laughing, BV. Hopefully, awards for doing what’s expected of us will one day once again become passe.

  13. 29

    says

    If I may, I’m going to take a stab at the darker sides of this outcome…

    Dark Point #1: A lot of kids have perfect attendance because mom and dad have no Plan B for daycare if junior can’t go to school. He goes to school whether he wants to or not. This isn’t the kids fault, but a condition of not having a parent at home if the child is too sick to go to school. A lot of employers frown on employees taking time off if they’re sick, let alone if they’re kids are sick. It’s an unfortunate situation.

    Dark Point #2: the school system teaches, enforces and awards compliance. To a certain degree, compliance is a good thing. But a child who grows up to be totally compliant is at a disadvantage in the real world where thinking out of the box is often the only way forward. A child who’s totally compliant will always wait for permission. Though it may seem “good” on the surface, in practice it’s a true handicap.

    I always loved the line from City Slickers, where Billy Crystal’s friend says of the cowboy who’s driving them into apparent oblivion, “he’s a wild mustang, we’re trained ponies”. The school system is set up to turn out trained ponies. A kid with 100% attendance is an example, and the school will reward it.

    • 30

      Len Penzo says

      #1. Agree, we can’t blame the kid for that situation. Like I said before, though, I think in most cases, most parents have more options to handle this than they want to admit.

      #2. Agree again, Kevin. (But I know we think a lot alike, so I’m not surprised!)

      And I like the trained ponies metaphor too. :-)

  14. 31

    says

    My employer recently changed their sick time policy. Apparently, there were some employees that had been abusing the policy. So, they changed it now. To what, you may ask? If you are absent more than 5 days in a calendar year, all further sick absences must be accompanied by a doctors note. I can’t even make this stuff up, Len. I asked them if they were planning on paying the doctor’s bill, but haven’t heard any response on that…

  15. 34

    Wah, wah, wah says

    Hi Len,
    I’m sorry, but I disagree with your post. I don’t think kids or parents are that motivated by some attendance award at the end of the year. It might be nice to get the recognition, but it’s not what drives most parents to send their kids to school. My kids have gotten that award a couple of times and I can assure that I never sent them to school sick nor was I thinking, “Gee, they must get that attendance award, no matter what!”. I do agree with one poster who said that lack of childcare for working parents may be a big driver in why kids are sent to school even if they’re sick. But it’s not an attendance award. Frankly, kids aren’t in school enough and the school calendar is too short as it is. I agree with Slug – if kids have a cold, they need to suck it up and go to school.

    • 35

      Len Penzo says

      I’ll go back to the thesis of my article: why do we give kids awards for doing something that is expected of us anyway?

      • 36

        HS senior says

        because many students use being “sick” as an excuse to skip and they are just lazy. and many parents simply let it happen. by saying we should stay home with a cough…it sets a bad example for the future. later in life we will face adversity and we won’t be able to just simply take a break. it is important to set a goal and persevere through it

        • 37

          Len Penzo says

          Whaaa? How does staying home when one is ill to avoid infecting others “set a bad example for the future?”

          Trust me; you couldn’t be more wrong.

          You are completely discounting the adverse impacts of your actions on others. It’s not about you in this instance.

          It’s about personal responsibility and our obligations to society.

  16. 39

    says

    People,
    The school systems promote the dung outta those perfect attendance awards because each day a child is not in school results in a net loss of federal funds. They get paid by each day of instruction. If Johnny is not there for a particular day that means no matching funds from Uncle Sam. Heck, where I live, if your kid has five unexcused absences they can come and throw you in jail — not kidding here. “We don’t need no education — we don’t need no thought control…”

    • 40

      Len Penzo says

      Yes, I know. They really are serious about maximizing attendance.

      I kept my kids out of school one day to attend a family event. We sent a note to the school office explaining their absence and I told the truth — that is, they weren’t ill.

      The next week I got a notice from the school district telling me my kids were considered officially truant for that day, and if it happened two more times, I could be cited for it!

      Needless to say, I wrote a curt reply to the school district regarding their ridiculous policies and protocols, and informing them that in the future I will simply lie regarding any of my kids absences that aren’t due to illness.

  17. 42

    Jessie says

    School? How about adults missing work because people do the same thing? I’m diabetic and catch every bug that strolls past me, so I’m super careful about being around anyone who’s sick and I rarely miss a day of work. This past February a woman who sits near me, who has a small child, came to work with Influenza A. She didn’t miss a day but I missed a week, was almost hospitalized, and had to give up a week of my vacation plus fill out reams of paperwork for FMLA (Family Medical Leave) so I wouldn’t be fired. My nemesis is the parent of young children – the parent may be immune to her children’s illnesses, but she’s a carrier.

  18. 44

    Anne says

    I agree, Len, those awards need to be done away with! My son is a transplant recipient, on immuno-suppressant meds, and gets every illness that is floating around. While “normal” kids may be under the weather for a day or two, my son will miss a week! Bottom line, if your kids are sick, they need to stay home!

  19. 45

    says

    As a former teacher, I believe that giving rewards at the end of the school day or week gives positive reinforcement and children gets more excited in going to school. Furthermore, awards at the end of the year motivate children to look forward to next school year and do better.

  20. 46

    says

    Excellent article!!! As I was reading this I was thinking, “students with perfect attendance are at school infecting everyone else”, but I see you thought and wrote the very same thing.

    Bugs me when parents send their children to school KNOWING they are sick. when a child is in the office at 8:00 a.m. with a fever you know the parents sent them to school sick.

  21. 47

    Cheryl Musso says

    My daughter missed 3 days of school, grades 1-8. Did not go to school sick, in fact she was rarely sick at all. Maybe,… because she was on only child or maybe a strong immune system. Just an aside, she is 28 and has never had a cavity.
    I am 56 and have called in sick to work twice in 7 years. I do not go to work sick, as I am an OR nurse, I just don’t get sick other than an occasional sinus headache.

    • 48

      Len Penzo says

      I think being an only child certainly reduces the risk of catching stuff from siblings, Cheryl. By the way, I too have never had a cavity in 47 years — which is, I am fairly certain, due to my genes and not so much my dental hygiene (although I brush twice per day, I rarely floss).

  22. 49

    Tyler says

    I like how you blame sickness in school on kids who have perfect attendance. Just funny how you twisted that. Should we point out the kids who miss the most amount of school days? You sure as hell know its not just from normal colds. They also might get sick at just the right times? Maybe during breaks? I’ve gotten perfect attendance plenty of times but that doesn’t mean I haven’t gotten sick, I have but they just worked out to be when I wasn’t in school. The reason, for the most part that I really never missed a day, is because I really didnt want to miss a whole days work. You get behind in school, its hard to catch back up.

    • 50

      Len Penzo says

      Well, the last time I checked, Tyler, they don’t give awards out to kids who miss “the most amount of days.”

      If you’re afraid of falling behind due to an extended illness, what’s wrong with getting coursework from the teacher — instead of putting the other kids at risk of contracting your illness? Seems to me that would be the personally responsible thing to do, but that’s just me.

  23. 51

    Amber says

    I am a teacher of 4 year olds and have never had a healthy year in my life. I have always been those to catch everything that is around and I don’t just feel a little bad I get SICK, missing days at a time. I was excited this year as I had missed all the beginning of school year colds and my normal sinus infection and then I got CHICKEN POX…this is my second case. So as I sit her about to start my 6th day off tomorrow I have already missed more than 50% of the school year and can’t go back till everything is scabbed over! YAY ME!

  24. 53

    HS senior says

    Hi,
    I am currently a senior in high school, and I have yet to miss a day of school in my life. With less than 50 school days left, I plan to maintain my attendance. Have I gotten sick? yes…but mostly on weekends and vacations. I never have come to school with anything more than a cold. In my opinion, this is a proud accomplishment. I am proud of the fact that the promise I made to myself is perfect. I am far from perfect, but it feels good to know that you can truly do anything you set your mind to.
    -Just thought i’d share my opinion

    • 54

      Len Penzo says

      Absolutely; we can all do anything we set our mind to! That is a terrific attitude to have. But don’t you think there are better ways to prove that to yourself than by going to school sick and risking the health of your schoolmates and teachers?

      Since you are a high school senior, I think you are mature enough that I can be completely frank with you: It is personally irresponsible — not to mention selfish — to knowingly risk the health of others by going to school just so you can earn a dubious award for perfect attendance.

      I’m not sayin’. I’m just sayin’. :-)

  25. 55

    says

    I’m a parent of a senior that has never missed a day of school in 13 years that was my goal .I heard on the radio about too brothers who never missed a day .so I told my self that my two kids would never missed a day .but my daughter got sick one day and that seem to have changed my mine about the never missing a day so she stood home for a week it was her appendices that was removed . As for my son he will be graduating this June with never missing a day let’s hope he’s really proud of him self and I’m proud of both ….

  26. 56

    Debi says

    Wow, never missed a day, So you either won the lotto of good genes or Mom wanted you out the door.
    I knew a lady who was studied by USC because she was never ill, never missed a day of school or work, she died of breast cancer at 42 years old. Didn’t take care of herself thought she just couldn’t be sick. Perhaps parents should teach your kids that sickness happens, and they should rest when ill. Also, taking a day off now and then can be good for the soul.

  27. 59

    Louise says

    Yes, as an elementary school teacher I have a HUGE problem with sick children attending school. Unfortunately, they ARE awarded for their attendance because the school district gets more $$ the more students who attend. Bottom line, those in charge care nothing about the welfare of a child. I remember my friend telling me she’d never missed a day of school ever, and I thought it was a stupid thing to be proud of.

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