The last time Kaeleigh Green was absent from school was in kindergarten — she and her family took a trip to Disney World and she missed two days.
A lot has happened since then: Green went from Elkridge Elementary School to Elkridge Landing Middle School. She developed Crohn's disease, and then Lyme disease. On Wednesday, she was scheduled to graduate from Howard High School with an impressive record. Except for those two days in 2000, Green has never missed a day of school, not even because of her illnesses.
"I toughed it out because I didn't want to ruin my streak," said Green, 18, of Hanover. "I just kept it going. When I was in first grade I got my first perfect attendance award and I was so excited so I just kept it going. I didn't really realize what I was doing until later on and I kept thinking, 'I can't ruin it now.' "
To be fair, Green said, she did miss two half days — one in second grade and one in third grade — when she was feeling sick and left school early. But when she developed Crohn's, an immune deficiency that affects the gastrointestinal tract, Green made sure to take her medications every day and schedule appointments with her gastroenterologist either on days off from school or after school hours.
"There were definitely days I didn't want to go," she said. "There were days where I would wake up in serious pain and my stomach would hurt really, really badly."
Green powered through the pain. She would lie down in the school nurse's office when it was absolutely necessary and friends and teachers would comment how pale or flushed she looked or how much weight she had lost when she was recovering from a Crohn's flare. But Green didn't see the point in missing school. She was managing her illness, participating in extra-curriculars and keeping up with school — she graduated with a 3.2 GPA. But above all, she had impeccable timing.
"Any time I've gotten a serious flare-up, it's been during the summer or winter break or spring break," she said. "I've been lucky."
Things got more complicated her junior year when her neck started to hurt. The pain spread down her spine, crippling her joints. She was diagnosed with Lyme disease, a bacterial infection spread through the bites of insects such as ticks. Lyme disease can cause fever, headaches and the swelling of joints among other symptoms.
"Coming to school was miserable," Green said. "Any time the bus would hit a bump it was awful. It was tough, but I still went to class every day."
Green's parents, Charlene and Patrick Green, said they encouraged and supported their daughter's near-perfect attendance. They admire her perseverance, but they made it clear if Green's health had been seriously jeopardized "you better believe she would've missed school," Charlene Green said.
In a way, perfect attendance runs in the family, Patrick Green said. His aunt had perfect attendance when she was in school in the 1940s, and that record was the talk of family gatherings for years afterward.
"It was the talk of the family forever," Patrick Green said. "For me, I'm proud of Kaeleigh because one, she's been a trouper and two, she's accomplished something I'd only heard about in the past with my aunt."
Green said her friends and classmates think her near-perfect attendance is "kind of ridiculous," but she thinks it's an interesting accomplishment and one people will talk about for years to come as they did with her great-aunt.
"I just thought it was important to stick it out to the end," said Green, who will attend Bloomsburg (Pa.) University in the fall to study American Sign Language. "It's going to be a relief to graduate after everything I've been put through."
Green added that she that she didn't want to miss school because of the stress and work she'd inevitably have to make up. Besides, she said, she liked Howard High.
"It was a really good learning environment," she said. "I found it important to be there every day."