Shaler's Burchfield Elementary has 10 sets of twins

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Into the gymnasium they scampered -- wide-eyed and ready for their group photo -- 20 kindergartners who already have made their mark on Shaler Area School District's Class of 2026 as the largest group of twins in Burchfield Primary School history.

They gathered for their picture and managed to sit still long enough to please their principal, Jeff Rojik, who said he had been forewarned about this group of adorable twosomes before he moved from his former post as assistant principal at Shaler Area Elementary School.

" 'How would you handle having a kindergarten class with 10 sets of twins?' " he remembered being asked during the interview process. Turned out, it was not a rhetorical question.

"The transition this year for the kindergarten kids has been better than usual," Mr. Rojik said. "I think it's because 20 percent of the students know somebody so there's been less anxiety, less fear of the unknown," he said. "They watch after one another and speak up for the other if something is going on."

In addition to knowing their siblings even longer than their own parents, the children also had played with one another while their parents attended twin support groups over the years, he said.

The children certainly seemed comfortable as they posed for their picture. Some were hand-in-hand, a few were dressed alike but many could not have been pointed out as twins by a stranger.

The group consists of three sets of twin boys, two sets of twin girls and five sets of boy/girl twins -- with only one set of identical sisters, Abigail and Emma Gunde, daughters of Maggie Kiesel and Philip Gunde, among them.

Their classmates are Trevor and Troy Cignetti, sons of Brad and Nicole Cignetti; Cy and Sally Engel, son and daughter of Carlyle and Amy Engel; Adam and Isabella Hoffman, son and daughter of Steve and Jennifer Hoffman; Carly and Jayden Karbowski, daughters of Eric and Nicolle Karbowski; Taylor and Zachary London, sons of Christopher and Katie London; Jake and Mackenzie Murphy, children of Max and Jamie Murphy; Kai and Seda Ruefle, son and daughter of Amanda Wray and Francis Ruefle; Bradyn and Blake Whiteman, sons of Stanley and Karen Whiteman; and Deven and Kori Wilson, son and daughter of Robert and Christina Wilson.

And those are not the only multiple siblings at Burchfield.

There are four sets of twins and a set of triplets in the first grade and two sets of twins in second grade. Linda Alessio, library aide/secretary at the school, said twins and triplets have been a common site in the hallways of Burchfield Primary for years, prompting some to wonder lightheartedly if there is something in the water. "We have to drink bottled water around here," Ms. Alessio said, in jest.

Teachers at the small primary school are certainly familiar with students who come in pairs as part of their classrooms.

Stephanie Franz has two sets of twins in her kindergarten class this year.

She said it is up to parents to decide if their children are to be kept together in the same class or split into different rooms.

In general, twins are kept with their siblings as they start their school careers in one of the four kindergarten classes at Burchfield, but they tend to separate themselves as they mature.

"I don't sit them together," she said. "It's good for them as they develop their own personalities."

Dana Kokos also teaches two sets of the Burchfield twins. "When I have siblings, I like to treat them as individuals," she said. "We make it a special thing, but sometimes kids don't like being treated as a unit." She also seats them separately in the classroom.

"Our kindergarten teachers are great and the parents are completely cooperative," said Mr. Rojik. "And the kids have been wonderful as well. If you're ever having a bad day, just walk down to the kindergarten wing and you'll leave smiling."

neigh_north

Rita Michel, freelance writer: suburbanliving@post-gazette.com. First Published October 10, 2013 1:50 AM


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