Northwest Florida Daily News | by Savannah Evanoff | May 24, 2021
NICEVILLE — It’s normal to celebrate your last day of high school as the culmination of 12 years of cafeteria lunches, pop quizzes and finals.
Laurel Wentworth, a Niceville High School student, took five AP classes her senior year, started the Alaqua Club to support the Alaqua Animal Refuge in Freeport and was accepted into the University of Florida; she certainly had plenty to celebrate.
But when Laurel pulled up in a blue Chevy Equinox for her final day Friday morning, there was a celebration waiting for her on the front steps at the entrance.
Principal Charlie Marello, her parents Pam and Mike Wentworth, and a cluster of peers stood outside cheering and holding up posters with the number 2,340.
Out of 2,340 days of school, Laurel didn’t miss one.
“Every year of elementary school, I would get an attendance award, and it was in fifth grade they gave me a special award,” Laurel said. “There was one other girl who had never missed a day in elementary school. By the end of sixth grade, she had missed a day. That’s when I decided I want to do this forever and always be that person.”
Laurel said she plans to continue her streak of perfect attendance in college as best she can.
Pam Wentworth and Marello had been planning the surprise celebration for three weeks. Marello thought it was worth the acknowledgment.
“She is a super sweet kid, high academic achieving student,” Marello said. “I see the other side of that, with kids who have such attendance issues and how that negatively affects them. When her mother, Pam, made me aware of her story that she had never actually missed a day, I just wanted to give her some credit. We wanted to do a big surprise, something special for her.”
At the end of the school year, many students are honored for various accomplishments, Marello said.
“I’m not certain that’s any more impressive than a kid who’s never missed a day of school in 13 years,” he said.
Laurel takes after her family.
Pam, a pediatric nurse practitioner, and Mike, the vice president of the South region of Sysco foods, also value attendance.
“We were talking about that this morning as we ate breakfast. ‘Have you ever missed a day of work?’ ” Pam said. “Neither of us have ever called in for work — even with two young children. We’ve never called in sick or didn’t go because our cars were broken. We found a way to get to work. We’ve been married 21 years. Never missed a day of work.”
Laurel’s older brother, Trevor, a student at the University of Florida, only missed one day in kindergarten for a family vacation. Attendance is part of their sibling rivalry, Mike said.
“This is something he doesn’t have,” Mike said.
“He hates me for it,” Pam added jokingly. “He thinks I’m the worst mom. Poor Trevor.”
Going to school every day wasn’t easy. Laurel had food poisoning one year.
“I felt terrible, but I went to school for the perfect amount of time to be counted for a day,” she said. “It was pretty bad. There’s definitely been some days where I’ve had the common cold or something and normal kids would’ve been like, ‘I’m not going,’ and I was like, ‘Nope. I have to go. I have to just push through it.’”
Even when school went virtual because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Laurel always checked in. She does have two “Qs,” or quarantine days, on her record because of contact tracing, Pam said.
Her parents are proud.
“It’s a really unprecedented accomplishment,” Pam said. “There’s Eagle Scouts, less than 1% of the population; marathoners — we’ve run one — less than 1% of the population; this number is even smaller. I don’t even know if you can Google it and find out.”
“This didn’t come from us,” Mike said. “Maybe she saw we never called in sick to work, but this is something she wanted to do. We never set that as a goal for her. This is all her.”
Laurel even wrote her college essay on her mission to achieve perfect attendance.
“I think they probably saw the determination and dedication of the student she is and they picked her,” Pam said.
Most people are in disbelief when she tells them, Laurel said, and some will call her crazy. To her, it was worth it.
“This is something I know I’ll probably never meet anyone else and it will always be something I can tell people,” Laurel said. “It kept me determined to keep doing it.”
Featured image: Niceville High School Principal Charlie Marello brings Niceville senior Laurel Wentworth to the school steps for a surprise celebration of her 2340 days of perfect school attendance. Michael Snyder, The Northwest Florida Daily News-USA TODAY NETWORK