MOUNT AIRY — They joke that "it's something in the water."
Whatever it is, Mount Airy Elementary School finds itself with an unusual distinction: 16 sets of twins. And another set -- second-graders -- will be added to the school roster in May. Three more sets have registered for kindergarten next year.
"We all have wells," laughs Linda Maboy, a member of the local Mothers of Twins Club and whose identical 5-year-old girls will be among the twins in the fall kindergarten class.
Twins have always had a special place at the school. They are highlighted each year on a single page in the school yearbook. The twins raised eyebrows this year, though, when a pupil personnel worker told Principal Althea Miller he thought the number was unusual.
"I really have no idea whether it's a lot or not," Miller said. "But it's the most I've seen in the 14 years I've been here. Two or three years ago we had a fair number,but this beats even that."
School officials initially counted 15 sets of twins. They discovered another set -- fifth-graders Andrew and Ryan Nunemaker -- last week when all the twins gathered for a groupphoto.
Watching the photograph session, custodian Michelle Lettiesaid she was unaware the school had so many twins.
"I just didn'trealize it," said the Taylorsville resident. "But it makes sense now."
Lettie thought something funny was up more than once, especially when it came to first-graders Steven and Michael Grant.
"I'd seeone in the hall, and then a little while later I'd see him again getting a drink of water," she said. "I kept thinking, 'What he is always doing out of class?' Now I know."
Perhaps abetting the confusionat Mount Airy is the placement of twins in different classrooms. Miller said school officials do that so that each is treated as an individual and not singled out.
And let it be known that telling twins apart is even difficult for, well, other twins.
For instance, fourth-grader John Myers, fraternal brother to sister Dana, couldn't tellthe Nunemaker twins -- Andrew and Ryan -- apart.
"I'm better-looking," Andrew offered as a hint.
Miller wonders if the school, which has a student enrollment of about 860, has set some sort of record.
"But it may not be that unusual with that many students," she cautioned.
The National Organization of Mothers of Twins Club Inc. does not keep statistics on the number in schools, said Lois Gallmeyer,executive secretary of the Albuquerque, N.M.-based association.
"We get asked those questions regularly," she said. "Every year this comes up. The (Mount Airy) number is certainly higher than the norm. .. . It would be unique to have that number in a rural district."
To put things in perspective, though, Gallmeyer noted more twins are being born. A variety of reasons have contributed to that increase, including fertility drugs.
"The single biggest factor is the fact that women are waiting later in life to have families," she said. "Theincidence of having twins nearly doubles for women who get pregnant between the ages of 35 and 40."
One-third of the twins born in theUnited States are identical and two-thirds are fraternal, she said. At Mount Airy Elementary, the sets of twins appeared to be equally divided between identical and fraternal.
At least that's the observation of Latricia McConnell, the mother of 5-year-old identical twin girls, Ashley and Amber, who attend afternoon kindergarten classes.
Maboy doesn't think fertility drugs had anything to do with the majority of twins -- there are 18 sets -- in her informal club.
"We did have three girls in the infertility program at John Hopkins (University)," said Maboy, who also has a 7-year-old son. "But none of the rest of us fit in the category of twin moms. The median age is 20.
"It's just one of those things," she added.