published Saturday, June 1st, 2013

Perfect school attendance runs in Grundy County's Meeks family

Jared Meeks, Ethan Meeks, Pam Meeks, Brittany Barrett, Sarah Meeks and Rebecca Parker sit together for a portrait inside the home of Rebecca Parker in Grundy County. The Meeks have never missed a day of school.
Jared Meeks, Ethan Meeks, Pam Meeks, Brittany Barrett, Sarah Meeks and Rebecca Parker sit together for a portrait inside the home of Rebecca Parker in Grundy County. The Meeks have never missed a day of school.
Photo by Connor Choate.

Few parents can boast about having a child with a perfect school attendance record. Something usually comes up to prevent a student from being in class -- a sickness, a family emergency or perhaps a trip out of town.

But the Meeks family, of Grundy County, defied probability and put not one, but five kids through school without any of them missing a day.

"It's extremely rare. It's probably never going to happen again," said Grundy County High School counselor Jessie Kinsey. "I think there are a lot of excuses to miss school, but somehow they found ways to not use excuses."

Pam Meeks said she met with resistance from her children. But she always prevailed.

"They were going to do it. I would tell them, 'Get up out of bed. You are going to school,'" she said.

But the children's good health contributed to their perfect attendance.

"I guess we were just blessed with good immune systems," said Rebecca Parker, 31, the oldest of the siblings. Parker is now married and has children of her own.

The family's physician, Dr. Tom Voychehovski from Hamilton Pediatrics, said he rarely saw the Meeks children. When he did, it was just for a check-up.

"I did not see them much because they were never sick," he said. "I haven't had anyone [else] like that."

Parker's younger sister, Sarah Meeks, 30, remembers getting sick once -- when school was out.

"We got the chicken pox over Christmas break," she said.

After Parker and Sarah Meeks, the perfect attendees include their sister Brittany Barrett, 27; followed by younger brothers Jared Meeks, 25, and Ethan Meeks, 17.

All five siblings attended Palmer Elementary School and graduated from Grundy County High School.

They certainly weren't thrilled to be at school every day. Sarah Meeks decided she was done with school after kindergarten. But their daily presence did have its rewards.

"We would always get a perfect attendance award and sometimes it would be cash or tickets and that was always something to look forward to," Parker said. "I think when I graduated high school I actually got a $200 cash award."

Pam Meeks was adamant that her children attend school because she believes education is the only road to success.

"I would tell them, 'You can't get anywhere in life anymore without an education,'" she said.

Barrett said the discipline of getting to school every day also taught them how to work hard.

"I think it gave us a sense of responsibility and motivation," Barrett said. "We knew we had to be at school, so I think later in life we knew we had to work and do our best at work. It gave us a good work ethic."

Those early lessons paid off.

Parker works for the Tennessee Department of Correction as a state probation and parole officer. Sarah Meeks works as a Grundy County 911 dispatcher. Barrett, married with children, dedicates her time to raising her three boys.

Jared Meeks is an emergency medical technician and will graduate from Tennessee Tech University in August as a paramedic.

And Ethan Meeks, who graduated from Grundy County High School on May 23, is planning to attend Chattanooga State Community College in the fall for its emergency medical technician program.

Parker said she and her siblings decided to start a scholarship to encourage other Grundy County students to attend school.

"It will be given to students who graduate from Grundy County High School without ever missing a day from kindergarten through 12th grade," Parker said.

Parker said they plan on awarding $250 to a student next year.

This familial streak doesn't stop with the five siblings. Parker's son Paul Allen Wise, who will enter the fourth grade next year, is carrying on the legacy.

"He hasn't missed a day yet," Parker said.

Contact staff writer Lindsay Burkholder at lburkholder@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6592.

about Lindsay Burkholder...

Lindsay Burkholder is originally from Winston-Salem, N.C. She graduated from Covenant College in May 2012 with a bachelor's degree in English. While at Covenant she spent time writing for and editing the news section of the school newspaper, The Bagpipe. Burkholder also attended the World Journalism Institute in New York City in 2011.

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