Both sons of Bruce and Hattie Webb made it through 13 years of public school with perfect attendance, but their impressive accomplishment didn’t happen by accident.
The Spotsylvania County couple planned for it, made a commitment to it—and insisted upon it—before their boys, Bernard and Bryce, ever boarded their first school bus.
The parents grew up in the South and heard stories from their elders about the way blacks were treated before integration. Women like Bruce Webb’s mother and grandmother made a meager 25 cents by scrubbing clothes over a washboard, and they had to walk 10 miles to pick up the laundry and deliver it.
His father never had a cross burned on his lawn, but he had one placed on his desk when he worked for a plant in Toledo after the one in Alabama closed.
Webb had those experiences in his head as he and his wife brought their own children into the world.
“Being African–American males, we knew they were going to face some challenges,” the father said.
That’s why the couple got their sons involved in church, stressed religion and discipline and emphasized education.
“That’s something that nobody can take away from you,” the father said.
Bryce Webb, 18, just graduated from Riverbend High School in Spotsylvania. His older brother, Bernard, 20, has finished his second year at the University of Virginia, where he’s majoring in business and government. Bryce Webb also plans to attend U.Va., but isn’t certain of his major.
Before either started at Riverbend—where both earned 4.2 grade-point averages, took Advanced Placement and dual-enrollment classes, played sports and mentored younger students—their parents made it clear the boys would be in school daily, even when they didn’t feel like it.
“It was not easy, every morning, getting them outta that bed,” said the mother, a systems engineer at the Navy base in Dahlgren.
She and her husband, a financial analyst at the base, commute from Spotsylvania to King George together—and the mother says she’s the only morning person in the house.
The younger Webb had various back-to-back injuries from grades 7 through 10, from playing basketball and running track. He bruised his knee, broke his wrist, toe and foot, and had various other nagging aches and pains.
There were lots of times when he woke up in the morning—even through the end of his senior year—and announced he didn’t want to go to school.
“They would say, ‘You’re going to school.’ There was no argument, there was no negotiating,” Bryce Webb said. “I was gonna have to go. Unless I got to school, and I threw up, I was gonna have to stay there.”
His older brother was captain of the football team and needed surgery twice from a shoulder injury and torn tendon. Both operations were scheduled near Thanksgiving or winter break so he could recover without missing school.
“Now that I look back on it,” Bernard Webb said from his vantage point as a wise college student, “I don’t know how we made it.”
Their achievement is definitely “unique and dynamic in our community,” said Roderick Goode, assistant principal at Riverbend and a director with the James Farmer Scholars Program, of which the Webb brothers were members.
“It is rare to find one student who has perfect attendance during one school year, but two from the same family who … never formally missed a day of school their entire careers is uniquely special,” Goode said.
‘KEPT US FOCUSED’
Bryce Webb said his friends knew “our parents didn’t take no mess” and didn’t always understand the family’s rules.
“A lot of people I go to school with, they kinda do what they want,” he added. “Our parents let us be independent and do our own thing, but they kept us focused.”
In the Webb household, only A’s and B’s were acceptable. Cellphones were not allowed until the 10th grade.
The boys couldn’t work during the school year because doing well in class was their job. Summer jobs were allowed, and the boys could use that money for clothes and shoes—or on college expenses such as books and fees.
High school sports were encouraged, but “we weren’t trying to raise pro athletes,” the dad said. Practices and games could not interfere with homework and school schedules.
When the track team headed to a two-day meet in Pennsylvania earlier this year, Bryce Webb couldn’t go because it would have counted as two absences.
Hattie Webb knew exactly what time basketball practice ended and how long it took her younger son to get home. If more time than that had elapsed, she drove to school, marched onto the court and pulled her son off it.
She didn’t want to hear a coach say her son needed extra practice; she said it was time for him to go home and study.
“They always stressed to us: School was first. If something got in the way of school work, it was wrong,” Bernard Webb said.
The parents used every opportunity as a lesson. When they visited major cities—New York, Los Angeles or Atlanta—on vacation or spring break, they used public transportation so their sons would be exposed to all kinds of people and experiences.
Sightseeing always included an informal visit to college campuses, where the boys could see some of the possibilities out there.
“It wasn’t a matter of if they went to college but where,” the father said about his sons.
School counselor LaTonya Parker called the Webb parents supportive and actively engaged people who’ve instilled the value of education into their children. She said it’s no wonder both boys attained the “lofty goal” of perfect attendance throughout their public school career.
“While this is quite an honor, it really is no surprise,” she said.