BLOOMINGTON -- Rachael Schirano was faced with three times as many decisions this fall as most moms of kindergartners.
She and husband John had to decide if they wanted their triplets in the same class, or separate ones, at Oakland Elementary School.
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Surprisingly, it's not that uncommon a dilemma at Oakland, where there is another set of triplets and seven sets of twins this year. That means 20 of the school's 520 students are part of a same-age sibling set.
Classroom decisions are made in consultation with parents and teachers, but Principal Mary Kay Scharf -- based on established research and her experience -- prefers triplets or twins in separate classes so they can develop independence.
Schirano, like many moms, preferred her children be together to support each other and thoroughly researched the options before requesting her children be in the same classroom.
She also felt it would be easier to have one teacher to meet, one field trip to schedule and a single classroom for volunteering. The consolidation also gives her more time to spend with daughter Lydia, 16, a Central Catholic High School junior.
The Schirano 5-year-olds, Ella, Cameron and James, were in Anita Kirk's kindergarten classroom on a six-week trial basis. Kirk said the arrangement will continue, but the Schiranos will oblige if the school recommends separate classrooms next year.
"It's a partnership (school and parents)," said John Schirano, explaining parents know their own children best and teachers have classroom expertise.
"Every child is an individual. Really, it's what works best for your children," added Rachael Schirano.
And for another Oakland mom, who has fourth-grade triplets, separate is better.
Jill Hart moved to Bloomington from Mahomet and knew it might be easier to have Keaton, Corbin and Chloe in the same class. But she also knew it would be better for them not to be.
"I was looking at the big picture. My kids forever will be `the triplets' so I wanted them to have a sense of independence and be ready for adulthood," Hart said, who teaches at Northpoint Elementary.
She said it's been the right choice for the 9-year-olds. "I saw how confident it made them," she said, while acknowledging transportation challenges for parties and activities.
Shari Cooper, who teaches one of the Hart triplets, said each child has strengths and interests and "at fourth grade, I'm not sure they've discovered them all."
Sometimes parents don't get a choice.
In small schools, like St. Mary's Elementary in Bloomington, there is only one class per grade level. At other schools, like Metcalf Laboratory School in Normal, policy calls for twins and triplets to be separated.
That decision is based on research, said Metcalf Principal Amy Coffman, whose school has six sets of twins. Three sets are in first grade, where has 40 total students.
"Our procedure is to separate twins to build their own friendships and further social development, and individual identity," she said.
She recalled an exception when sixth-grade twins were reunited to help one struggling with homework. "It was a good choice," she said.
Some students have both types of experiences, like Hannah, Emily and Natalie Russell, Central Catholic High School seniors. Most of their classes are together because they are taking advanced classes.
The Bloomington 17-year-olds said it is often easier to do group projects together because they can work simultaneously at home. Other times, they choose to work in different groups.
"They've been pretty flexible," their mom, Lisa, said. At home, they share time with brother Christopher, 11, and dad, Dr. Robert Russell.
The girls resemble each other, but Emily has shorter hair. They have their own styles and interests in sports, music and friends, but comparisons go with the territory.
The most-asked question is whether they will attend the same university. Emily wants to study journalism, while Hannah and Natalie are interested in science and medicine like their parents.
Their mom, who roomed in college with her own identical twin, encourages her girls to have separate roommates even though it worked well for her.
"To this day we are very close," said Lisa Russell, a nurse anesthetist. Her sister has the same profession and the women talk daily.