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Teen's Attendance Is One for the Books

June 13, 2002|CLAIRE LUNA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Jessica Andrade blames her sister for her imperfect attendance record.

The Santa Ana girl caught chicken pox from her in preschool, forcing her to take a week off and start her race for perfect attendance in kindergarten.

But for the next 13 years, through softball tournaments and tennis matches, calculus workshops and 24-hour bugs, Jessica never missed a day of school.

The 17-year-old will receive an award for this accomplishment when she takes her degree today from Century High School in Santa Ana, where she was a star athlete and earned a 4.0 grade-point average. Three other Orange County students also will finish with a perfect attendance record from kindergarten through high school. Jessica credits her parents--Santiago, 48, and Lourdes, 41--for raising her as a responsible child involved in many activities. They started her softball career at a local park when she was 6 and encouraged her to start playing tennis as a freshman.

"It's not only an award for me, it's for my parents," Jessica said. "A lot of parents are really indulgent, letting their kids stay home just because they don't feel like going to school. Mine kept me focused on the day-to-day stuff and my future."

Her sister, Erica, a 19-year-old Cal State Long Beach student, almost had perfect attendance but for that bout of chicken pox and an excused absence for junior high cheerleading camp.

Jessica started making a concerted effort to reach 13 years of perfect attendance after fifth grade.

"Sometimes when I felt sick, I was really dragging," Jessica said. "Once I just slept through all my classes. But I was there."

Named the tennis team's most valuable player all four years, Jessica also played softball--every position but first base--and was involved in the school's math club.

In the fall, Jessica will study at UC Irvine, where she will major in math. She hopes to become a math teacher at a local school--ideally, her alma mater.

She had planned to attend Cal State Fullerton until the beginning of her senior year, when Century math teacher Bill Snyder encouraged her to consider a UC school.

Snyder, also Jessica's softball coach and senior advisor, said, "She would do everything you asked her to do, and she would do it well. Even more than the perfect attendance, it's that whole attitude that impresses me most."

Glittering paper cutouts of butterflies cover the door to Jessica's bedroom, where candles fill the shelves and butterfly-strewn netting floats over her bed.

Pictures of her boyfriend, whom she has been dating for 14 months, crowd one cork board. She said the boy had a ditching habit before they started going out.

But after the couple starting dating, he came to school every day to be with her, even on Senior Ditch Day, when they were two of the four seniors in class.

Her father said Jessica pushed herself to go to school each day, even when he and his wife, a data processor, asked her to take a day off after grueling weekend tennis tournaments.

"We told her to get some rest, but she wouldn't consider staying home," said Santiago Andrade, a janitor. "Being responsible--that's just the way she is."

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