Every day for seven years, Alexis Garza made it to school - rain or shine, sniffles or smiles.
"I love school," said Alexis, 11, who recently completed sixth grade at Topaz Elementary School in Hesperia. "The teachers make it easy for me to want to be there. The teachers are great."
But her perfect attendance streak almost ended after only two years when one lazy morning she and her grandmother, Veronica Garza, weren't sure if she should just stay in bed. They thought the first day of third grade actually was the following day - until they saw a neighborhood youngster walking to school with his backpack.
"We weren't sure if it was the day I woke up or the next day," Alexis said. "I had five minutes to get ready."
She quickly got dressed and happily made it to school on time.
A four-inch thick scrapbook maintained by her grandmother contains endless affirmations of the girl's scholastic achievements:
"Amazing work!" reads one certificate. "Super speller," "Accelerated reader," "Good Friend Award" and "Nice job!" exclaim others. There are also selected homework assignments that have good grades or especially encouraging notes from teachers.
"School is her everything," her grandmother said. "She would say, 'Every day I always learn something from the principal and the office staff.'" Not surprisingly, according to the grandmother, "She hasn't missed a homework assignment."
Veronica had already helped raise nine grandchildren when it became apparent that 2-year-old Alexis needed her love and guidance.
"Alexis was born, and I became a mommy again. And I'd do it all again."
Veronica Garza was born in Laredo, Texas, but the family moved to California. She graduated from De Anza College in Cupertino, where she studied languages. She's tri-lingual - Garza speaks English, Spanish and Portuguese. Eventually Garza settled in Hesperia.
Alexis talks to her mother, who lives in Nebraska with Alexis' younger sister, just about every day on the phone. But she feels blessed to have a loving grandmother so devoted to raising her.
"She's like the greatest grandma you can ever have," Alexis said. "For me she's my mom and my dad, and my grandma."
But for the child and grandmother, the positive experience is a two-way street. The granddaughter demonstrated unusual sensitivity and helpfulness as the health of her great-grandparents declined after 76 years of marriage.
"She helped me care for my parents," Veronica Garza said. "She even gave my father his last meal."
"It was applesauce," the girl remembered.
The two believe the girl's perfect attendance streak will extend into middle school (she will attend Hesperia Junior High next school year). And she already knows that good things are awaiting her: Alexis has been recommended for the schools AVID and Leadership programs.
But the grandmother admits she's a bit worried that middle school will bring new challenges for the girl, a concern Alexis has already addressed.
"Grandma, I know how to say no and walk away," she told her grandmother.
Not surprisingly, Alexis wants to be either an attorney -- "I like to debate things"-- or a school teacher. Four of Alexis' cousins are teachers, according to her grandmother.
"It might run in her blood."