A school with one, two or even three sets of twins in a grade is not unusual. But if you take those three sets, multiply by three, and add in a set of triplets, then you're approaching world-record territory.
Multiples make up 3 percent of the population, but a group of students at The Wheatley School in Old Westbury blows that statistic out of the water.
There are nine sets of twins and a set of triplets in the ninth grade there, accounting for 13 percent of the 166 students in the freshman class. Only one other school in the world has more, according to Guinness World Record officials. That's a high school in Texas, which, out of 429 students in the junior class, has 10 sets of twins and a set of triplets.
Wheatley's multiples are all fraternal and consist of seven sets of boy/girl twins, two sets of girl twins and a set of triplet boys.
Although the school may fall short of Guinness book recognition, students and school officials have established a track record over the years of fostering strong bonds and individuality among the multiples.
"Teachers and students here are connected in ways they simply aren't in other places," said principal Sean C. Feeney.
Besides the high school, the district has one elementary school and one middle school.
"Because you can't choose to go to a different school in our district, for better or worse the kids are stuck with each other from day one," Feeney added. "That creates a level of intimacy that works well with the twins. And because none of the multiples are identical, a lot of people aren't fully aware of how remarkable this really is."
The siblings, who have attended school together since kindergarten, have found comfort and strength in their numbers.
"I think it's good that we have so many twins in our grade," said Michael Lituchy, 14, whose twin is Katie. "People understand we're all individuals. If my sister and I were the only set of twins in the grade, I think we might feel separated."
That connection has also been a source of confidence and motivation.
"It's just a good feeling to know there are other people in your grade that you can relate to," said Daniel Wolff, who with brothers Matthew and Zachary are Wheatley's only triplets. "We know what to say and what not to say to our friends because we've dealt with the same issues with our siblings."
After all these years, their classmates view the multiple multiples in their midst as the norm. The twins move easily in and out of their group of 21. While they might engage in the same extracurricular activities, such as the jazz band, the orchestra and student government, and participate in the same community service projects, such as the annual charity walkathon, socially, the twins comfortably go their own separate ways.
When it comes to designing their academic program, there is such a diversity of courses and options, separation seems to happen by default.
"Most of the multiples are in separate classes," said Feeney, whose building also has five sets of twins in the eighth grade, two in the 11th grade and one in the 12th grade."When we're scheduling at the high school level, we take into account a lot of variables and we look at but do not place a lot of emphasis on it."
Sisters Jessica and Lauren Perry have the same lunch hour and choose to be in band, public speaking and Spanish classes together.
"In kindergarten I'd cry if Lauren wasn't there with me," Jessica said. "By middle school, most of the time I was annoyed when she was around. But now in high school I don't mind either way."
Indeed, it seems this grade teeming with twins is no big deal to anyone in the community. Few parents and students, even those in the ninth grade, were aware of exactly how many sets of multiples there were. When a copy of the People magazine featuring the Texas twin record holders was brought to their attention, the whole district was surprised to realize how close they were to Guinness notoriety.
"Outside of school, if someone finds out you're a twin, they say, 'Oh, that's so cool.' But not here, not really," added Ryan Kenny.
The multiples' camaraderie doesn't mean there's no urge to compete.
"Having a twin brings out a lot of competition for grades," said Ben Goldbaum, whose twin is Sabrina. The other twins agreed, but said the friendly rivalry might also encourage their siblings to try harder.
"I think that who does better on their report card is not so much a problem with our parents as it is between us," admitted Ryan's twin, Melissa.
The students' parents said they are unfazed by the number of twins and triplets at Wheatley, but emphasized they understand the issues relating to identity and individuality that are unique to their children. Though none are twins themselves, they are sensitive to the tug of war between cooperation and competition.
"We never compare their grades," said Cindy Brahms, mother of Taylor and Griffin. "They have different skills and different interests. All we ask is that they each work to the best of their ability."
Brahms echoed the concerns of many parents who said they'd never want one child's strengths and weaknesses measured against the other's.
"I always say I treat my boys as if they were individuals in different grades, but born on the same day," said Jane Wolff, mother of Wheatley's triplets.
Cindy Joel, mother of Danielle and Sam, said being a multiple has its advantages.
"I think they're even more comfortable socially than single children, having grown up together," said Joel. "They share a lot of the same friends and have friends individually. It's no big deal."
Though college is a few years away, the togetherness may run its course once high school is over. Only one set of Wheatley's twins said they plan to apply to the same college.
Until graduation, the district will continue nurturing its bumper crop of multiples, who are devoted to one another yet remain independent.
"You can't really explain what being a twin is like . . . it's weird," said Taylor Brahms. "But here you don't have to. There are so many other people who know exactly how you feel."
A short lesson on multiples
In the past two decades, the rate of multiple births in the United States jumped dramatically. Today, more than 3 percent of babies in this country are born in sets of two, three or more; about 95 percent of these multiple births are twins.
But did you know:
The names used for the order of multiple births is largely derived from the Latin names for numbers.
Identical twins have the same genes, so they generally look alike and are the same sex. A woman's chances of having identical twins are not related to age, race or family history.
Fraternal twins (like other siblings) share about 50 percent of their genes, so they can be different sexes. They generally do not look any more alike than brothers or sisters born in single-birth pregnancies.
Women in their 30s are more likely than younger women to conceive multiples spontaneously.
Nigeria has the highest rate of natural fraternal twins at about 44.5 per 1,000 births. Japan has the lowest rate at 2.3 per 1,000 births.
Nine offspring are called nonuplets; 10 offspring are called decaplets.
In 2008, the latest year of available statistics, the United States recorded:
138,660 twin births
5,877 triplet births
345 quadruplet births
46 quintuplets and other higher-order births
About 60 percent of twins, more than 90 percent of triplets and virtually all quadruplets and higher-order multiples are born premature.