By Celine Klosterman
MUSCATINE — Thank goodness for color coding.
Dressing each member of a triplet in a specific color and accessorizing twins’ outfits with different-colored earrings helps people tell identical-looking siblings apart at Guardian Angel Preschool at Bishop Hayes Catholic School. In Emily VanNatta’s Wednesday and Friday class for 3-year-olds, three sets of twins and one set of triplets are among the 16 students enrolled.
“In my 22 years in education as a teacher and administrator, I have never seen this happen before, nor have I heard of it happening anywhere else,” Principal Ann Gomez said.
“I was pretty surprised and a little bit nervous,” said VanNatta, who is in her first year at Bishop Hayes and her second year of teaching overall. “I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to tell them apart if they were identical.”
Two twins — Ava and Raen Acker — are identical. Of triplets Vaughn, Gavin and Lincoln Brookhart, Lincoln and Gavin are identical. Their classmates include twins Nicholas and Alina Juszczyk and Nathan and Nicole Bovenkamp.
After about six months of class, the multiples’ classmates sometimes can tell the identical pairs apart, VanNatta said. Distinguishing physical features help; Ava, but not Raen, has bangs, while Gavin sports a mole above his lip.
Parents developed tricks to signal their children’s identities, too. Marnee and Erik Acker’s twins wear different-colored earrings; Ava’s are aquamarine and Raen’s ruby. And Karen and Jamie Brookhart’s triplets dress in separate hues: Gavin wears green, Lincoln dons red, and Vaughn sports blue.
“At one point, we had talked about lightening up on (color coding), but any time we haven’t done it, it’s just too hard to tell them apart,” Karen Brookhart said of her triplets.
“I think Miss VanNatta’s doing a wonderful job,” Marnee Acker said; Michelle Bovenkamp agreed. “I just don’t know how she does it.”
Some parents said they appreciate knowing others who can empathize with the challenges of raising multiples. “Other parents may have two children, but it’s not the same as having twins,” Marnee Acker said.
“There are times we bounce ideas off each other,” Michelle Bovenkamp said of fellow parents. Her twins played with other members of multiples at Guardian Angel Preschool before class started in August, but she said she now has more opportunities to visit with the children’s parents.
But for all the parents’ discussions and efforts, mothers said their children don’t even seem to notice they’re twins or triplets. More important to the students is that they have a sibling in class.
If Alina’s twin Nicholas wasn’t her classmate, “I would cry,” she told her mother, Laura Jusczyzk. Laura and her husband, Don, belong to Ss. Mary & Mathias Parish in Muscatine.
Vaughn also appreciates his brothers’ presence, Karen Brookhart said. “He’s always a little hesitant to do things by himself.”
Nathan showed shyness at first, too; his “outgoing” twin Nicole used to speak for him, said Michelle Bovenkamp about her and Jon Bovenkamp’s children. But she thinks Nicole helped Nathan grow out of his shell. “Now he loves going to preschool.”
All the siblings tend to look out for each other, VanNatta said. “But they don’t necessarily play together; they have their own friends.”
“It’s interesting because even though there are so many multiples in the class, I don’t think the kids notice it,” Michelle Bovenkamp said. “That’s the great thing about kids; they don’t see the differences or similarities… everybody in the class treats everybody else the same.”