Just like clockwork, Tyler Goodwin, 17, awakens from his nine-hour slumber at 7 a.m. to a dramatic orchestral recording blaring from his cell phone’s alarm.
It’s another school day in Inman, S.C. (pop. 1,884), and the Chapman High School senior pulls on blue jeans and a polo shirt, washes down a quick breakfast with a half glass of milk, checks for e-mail on a home computer, and climbs into his white 1995 Chevy S-10 pickup truck for the mile-long drive to beat the 8 o’clock opening bell. Tyler, a member of the ROTC and an All-State trombonist for the Pride of Chapman Marching Band, is one of the first students to walk through the school doors.
The early-to-bed, early-to-school routine has served Tyler well, having never missed a day of class since entering Inman Elementary School in 1997. He vowed in the sixth grade to go the distance after receiving his sixth “Perfect Attendance” pendant.
“I realized that not many kids go all 12 grades with perfect attendance,” says Tyler, who keeps his collection of blue and white pendants taped to his bedroom door.
Each year, in a feat of endurance and perseverance that would make any parent proud, a small number of students across America graduate from high school after faithfully reporting to class every day since first grade without an absence.
“It’s an achievement that’s extremely rare but extremely impressive,” says Stephanie Mathis, 39, Tyler’s principal. “These are quality people who have inner drive and understand what it takes to be successful, whether in school or in life.”
The importance of getting a good education was a family value taught by parents Steve and Beth Dykstra, in Avon, S.D. (pop. 561), inspiring all three of their children to finish their entire kindergarten through high school careers with perfect attendance. That’s a cumulative 6,825 school days for the Dykstra siblings, beginning with Robyn’s graduation in 2001, Drew’s in 2005 and Matthew’s last year.
“We always told them it was their job to go to school, and that the reward of having an education would be that it would benefit their lives,” says Beth, 50, a language arts teacher at Avon Public School, her children’s alma mater.
The facts that the family lived across the street from the school, and that mom is a teacher there, were pluses in the Dykstras’ pursuit of flawless attendance. “I was always in the building with them,” she says.
As an educator, Beth emphasized the importance of uninterrupted, sequential learning. “I told them it was a lot easier to be there than to miss and have to get caught up,” she says.
Robyn Dykstra Urban, now 27 and working with adults with disabilities in Sioux Falls, S.D., set the family standard and, in the eighth grade, issued a friendly challenge to her younger brothers to match her ongoing attendance streak.
“I loved going to school,” says Robyn, who like her brothers was involved in numerous extracurricular activities. “I always liked to know what was going on. And I worried that if I missed a day, I was going to miss something new.”
Drew and Matthew managed to keep up with their sister, even while getting banged up a bit while playing football and basketball for school teams. Today, Matthew, 20, is a sophomore at Dakota Wesleyan University in Mitchell, S.D., and Drew, 24, is a guard at the state prison in Springfield, S.D.
While the Dykstra children got sick on occasion while growing up, their illnesses always fell on the weekends or during school vacations. And family support was key when emergencies arose. In 2006, their paternal grandfather’s funeral was scheduled on a Saturday so that Matthew, then the last child living at home, and Drew, who was attending college at Dakota Wesleyan, would not miss class. Their grandmother “knew that Grandpa would have wanted them to be in school,” Beth remembers. “We planned the services around school.”
Travis China, who played wide receiver for the football team at West Orange (N.J.) High School, was tough on the gridiron, but his friends and family learned in 2008 that he was tough off the field, too, after he broke his leg during one Saturday night game.
By Monday morning, the senior was back in the classroom, continuing his perfect attendance streak and keeping his middle school pact with his mother, Mary, to be a faithful student.
Travis insisted on hobbling to his homeroom class in a cast and on crutches, even though his mom gave him permission to stay home and sleep off his painful injury. “I said, ‘I might as well go to school,’” he recalls. “‘There’s nothing I’m going to do at home but be in more pain.’”
His tenacity paid off last year when he graduated from high school with 13 years of perfect attendance, including kindergarten, and an opportunity to play football for East Stroudsburg (Pa.) University. Travis, now 19, is entering his sophomore year and aspires to become a sportscaster.
“The first thing we are looking for is good kids, kids who have a good track record,” says head coach Danny Douds about his decision to recruit Travis. “You show me a kid who hasn’t missed a day of school, well those are few and far between.”
Tori Major, 17, of Anderson, S.C. (pop. 25,514), exhibits similar mental toughness. With perfect attendance heading into her senior year at Westside High School, she hopes to match brother Heath, 19, whose perfect attendance factored into scholarships at Erskine College in Due West, S.C., where he’s a sophomore.
Tori has endured numerous surgeries due to hearing problems in her right ear and a knee fracture suffered while playing school volleyball and softball, but she continues to navigate the school calendar without an absence. “I always schedule the surgeries around school holidays and the summer,” Tori says. Another ear surgery is necessary this year, but “I’ve told my parents to schedule it for Christmastime.”
Such dedication almost guarantees graduates a bright future, says Henry Adair, Tori’s principal at Westside. In his 27 years of leading the school, fewer than 10 students have completed their entire school careers with perfect attendance.
“After high school and in college, they are 100 percent successful,” Adair says. “I think that if you have 12 years of perfect attendance, that focus will be shown in whatever field they go into after they graduate.”
As for Tyler Goodwin, he hopes that achieving perfect attendance this school year, along with his academic record, will help him obtain a U.S. Air Force ROTC scholarship to college.
And he does not worry that talking about such goals will jinx his attendance streak.
“I never stop when I’m committed to something,” says Tyler, looking ahead to his senior year. “I always keep going.’’