HARRISONBURG — Every student has a story, and Cathy Grogg is the keeper of so many stories.
After almost 36 years as the attendance secretary for Harrisonburg High School, she has gotten to know students on a different level than most. She is the keeper of their stories, the reasons for their absences.
She knows their parents, or their lack of parents.
She knows the student who works the night shift at 7-Eleven, and comes to school directly after with a large to-go cup of coffee.
Grogg knows the student who got pregnant during her time in high school. She was there in the operating room when the boy was born. He’s now a student at one of the city’s elementary schools.
She knows the students who are late to school because they’re busy getting their siblings ready in the morning and putting them on the bus. She found it hard to mark those students as tardy.
“The biggest story is where they come from,” she said. “And it’s amazing what they endure.”
Grogg was 18, still a senior at Harrisonburg High School in 1983, when she began working as a special education teacher for the school division. She never even went for an interview. From there, she worked for three years as a library secretary at Spotswood Elementary School.
She got a call from the superintendent in June 1986 and was asked if she would like to be the attendance secretary for the high school, which was located where Memorial Hall is now, as part of the campus of James Madison University.
In 1986, Grogg was in charge of the attendance of 600 students. Teachers would put their attendance sheet outside their door and a student helper would collect them.
This year, Grogg kept track of more than 1,850 students and attendance is logged online by teachers after every block. It’s Grogg’s job to go into the system and look for discrepancies, call parents and serve out tardy slips.
But there is one aspect of the job that remains the same — forming a connection with the students.
“I’m on my second generation now, which is my favorite part,” Grogg said. Students will come in with their parents, who were once students Grogg knew.
Although she won’t be in the building after this month, Grogg said that thanks to social media, she’ll be able to keep up those relationships.
“I can keep up with their families and see them grow,” she said.
But change is good. After 36 years, Grogg said she is ready to relax, breathe and spend time with her family. Grogg has four kids, the oldest of whom is 30 and the youngest is a rising senior.
Grogg also has a 10-year-old granddaughter, and is pushing for more.
Although she won’t be working at Harrisonburg High School anymore, Grogg said she will continue to work. She has two part-time jobs, one of which is at JMU. But fortunately the hours for both afford her a flexible schedule.
But she will miss the students and hearing their stories. June 7 wasn’t Grogg’s last day, but it was her last day with students in the building.
“I cried all the way to work,” she said.