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Teachers are seeing double at one metro Omaha school — and triple and quadruple, too.
Of the 403 kids enrolled at Bell Elementary School in Papillion, there are 13 sets of twins, one set of triplets and one set of quadruplets.
Principal Kathy Szczepaniak had a feeling the number was high. When her curiosity got the best of her, Szczepaniak tallied them up.
“I thought, ‘Oh my word, we have 33 kids who are part of multiples,' ” she said.
She found it so delightful she assembled the children, took a picture and posted it at the school.
Obstetrician Dr. Heather Taggart, who delivers babies at Midlands Hospital in Papillion, said the unusually high number is most likely a random occurrence.
It's consistent with a sharp rise in multiple births nationally, however, Taggart said. The nation's twin birth rate rose 76 percent from 1980 through 2009, from 18.9 to 33.3 per 1,000 births, according to the National Center for Health Statistics.
Doctors attribute the increase to women becoming pregnant later in life, when a woman's changing body chemistry is more likely to produce multiple babies, and to the use of fertility drugs, Taggart said.
“It used to be that 5 percent of babies were born to women over age 35,” she said. “Now about 20 percent are.”
Szczepaniak, who has been a principal for eight years and an educator for 29 years, said that in her experience a grade school the size of Bell Elementary might have seven sets of multiples.
Michelle Reyes and husband George welcomed fraternal triplets Alexa, Sierra and Nate Reyes, now 7 and attending Bell, after in-vitro fertilization. She also has a 19-year-old daughter, Miranda Johnson.
It's nice to have other parents around school who know the ups and downs of caring for multiples, Michelle Reyes said.
“You know the behind-the-scenes struggles,” she said.
April and Jerry Koske had identical twin girls, Elizabeth and Nora, now 7, without the help of fertility drugs. They also have a 3-year-old daughter, Kate.
Elizabeth said it's “pretty special” attending a school with lots of kids like her. Nora nodded in agreement.
Despite so many multiples roaming the halls, parents say the kids manage to blend in. In many cases, they are assigned to separate classrooms to encourage independence, though the Reyes triplets are in one class. They were separated last year and missed each other, their parents said.
The multiples at Bell are a mix of fraternal and identical.
Taggart said the country has seen a stable rate of identical twins, which occur when one fertilized egg splits. The increase in twin births is coming from fraternal twins, when two eggs are fertilized by two sperm, she said.
The longer women delay child bearing, the greater the production of a hormone that contributes to multiple ovulations, she said.
Taggart speaks from experience. She has 8-year-old fraternal twin daughters, Mia and Kara.
“I was 34,” she said, “and as you get older, your ovaries can sometimes make mistakes like that, and you ovulate a couple of eggs.”
It turns out, her daughters almost became the 14th set of twins at Bell Elementary.
“We actually tried to get them into Bell,” Taggart said. “They go to Walnut Creek.”
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