By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger
Identical twins Emma and Sophie are used to people asking about the spelling of their hyphenated last name.
Perfectly in sync, they exclaim, “S-k-a-l-i-c-k-y dash G-r-a-v-e-t-t!”
When answering questions of any type, they often find themselves answering the same way, at the same time, in the same tone of voice. The blond haired, second-graders look the same, too, and they’re in good company. They are one of six sets of identical twins at Seton Catholic School in Ottumwa, with a fraternal set added in for a total of seven pairs of twins.
The number of twins — let alone identical twins — at Seton Catholic School is highly unusual. Conceiving identical twins almost always happens by sheer chance. The chance of having identical twins has held steady at two to four per 1,000 births for decades, according to babycenter.com. The likelihood of being an identical twin at Seton? One in 12.
It’s an occurrence that simply cannot be explained, said Principal James Wessling. “I’ve been in education almost 20 years. I’ve never had this many! I’ve had maybe two at one time. Never seven!”
All of the twins are in preschool, kindergarten, first or second grade. Teachers say learning to work with twins has been a unique learning process.
Richele Jacob teaches preschoolers Anneliese and Josephine Knotek, who enjoy wearing their brown hair in braided ponytails and dressing in matching outfits. “The biggest challenge was telling them apart at the beginning of the year. … There are a few physical differences, but you have to look really closely to know who is who,” she said. Over time, she got to know the girls’ unique, yet complementary personalities. Still, the girls “think it’s funny when (people) mix them up,” she said.
About half the twins choose to dress alike, but dressing differently does not necessarily make a twin immune to being called the wrong name. Preschoolers Reece and Collin Wilson “do not understand why their classmates get them confused,” said their teacher, Danielle Hoover.
Wessling said it can be tough for students and teachers who are less familiar with the twins to tell them apart. Everyone tries their best to see the twins as individuals, while respecting their desire for closeness. Because grade sizes at Seton are on the smaller side, all the twins are in the same classes.
The twins said they enjoy sharing the school experience with their sibling. Preschooler Logan Wanner feels safe when his fraternal twin, Kayleigh, is around. Kindergartners Jewel and Josey Caldwell help each other with coloring and other schoolwork. First-grader Noah Greiner likes completing math problems with his twin, Nigel, who is better at reading.
Hoover said of the Wilson twins, “They cheer each other on when they accomplish a goal. They are a good support system for each other.”
Teachers note that the sets of twins often play together at recess and share the same friends. Sophie Skalicky-Gravett said she is grateful that her twin Emma supports and sticks up for her when another student hurts her feelings.
Wessling assumes the large number of twins at the school is once-in-a-lifetime phenomenon that won’t soon be duplicated. “You always get the question, ‘What’s in the water?’” he joked.