GWINNER, N.D. — A sign on the wall of Mrs. Hock’s kindergarten class says, “It’s a great day to learn something new.” In the front row alone, Aiden is learning about the letter “B”, Adaline is learning how to balance a yellow crayon on her pencil box, and Megan is giving Miley advice about going to the doctor.
“You have to get a shot? Don’t worry. I laughed when I got a shot,” Megan said.
It might look and sound like any kindergarten class in America, but what sets this classroom at North Sargent Public School in Gwinner, N.D. apart aren’t the quirky conversations and goings-on over coloring books, but how often you see double.
Of this class of 19 children, six are twins. The three sets of twins include Landon and Tucker Meyer, Charlee and Lilly Melcher and Espy and Ember Thompson .
“In all my years of teaching, I’ve never, ever had three sets of twins. It’s unusual,” Hock said. “But it’s so nice to have them because each one is so different.”
Hock says a couple of weeks into school, she’s learning tricks on how to tell the identical twins apart.
“Landon has a small mole on his face, Ember has blue on her glasses, and Charlee has shorter hair,” Hock explained.
But one classroom with three sets of twins is just part of the story. It turns out, in this K-12 school of approximately 215 students, there are eight sets of twins. Yes, EIGHT sets of twins. According to statistics from the Centers for Disease Control, that is about double the normal rate of twins in the general population, making Gwinner, N.D. the unofficial twin capital of North Dakota.
“People joke that there must be something in that Bobcat water,” elementary school principal Michael Sorlie says with a laugh, referring to Gwinner's mainstay industry, the Bobcat manufacturing facility, which employs 1,700 people in this town of 850.
In addition to the kindergarten twins, second grade has two sets: Teegan and Aubree Justesen and Violet and Wyatt Ellestad. The rest of the class, including Jace Faber, seems to get a kick out of having so many twins in class.
“Sometimes Teegan gets called Aubree, and sometimes Aubree gets called Teegan, because look at them!” Faber said, throwing his arms up in exasperation.
Fifth grade has just one set: Elijah and Peyton Justesen, who in another weird twist of fate, are siblings to second-grade twins Violet and Wyatt. Their mother works at the school as a paraprofessional.
“I tell them they’re lucky. They each have a built-in buddy,” said Teri Ellestad of her family of multiples.
It’s all no big deal to Violet, who brushes off being a twin and having older twin brothers.
“They’re just my brothers," she said.
Ninth grade has twins Nick and Nate Hansen, described by Sorlie as “well-liked by all.” Nick is a four-sport athlete, while Nate has worked as team manager.
The oldest set of twins are 11th graders Megan and Abby Hill. However, The Forum was unable to talk to them in school because moments before the group photo was taken, the two girls, both varsity volleyball players, were sent home to quarantine because of possible COVID exposure from a match a week ago. Later, over the phone, they said they’re symptom-free, feeling fine and just getting a kick out of Gwinner’s recent “twin mania.”
“I really didn’t think it was that big a deal to have so many twins in school,” said Abby. “But then the media attention started. It is kind of strange.”
But they say it’s also kind of fun to have others around who understand what it’s like to be a twin.
“I think the question we get the most is ‘Do you think alike?” says Megan. Well, do they?
“No, we don’t,” both girls say with a simultaneous laugh.
Sorlie says it’s just the luck of the draw that they have so many multiples here in Gwinner, but they’re loving every minute of it.
“They’re all just good kids — fun to have around, just like all of our kids,” Sorlie said. “They add spice to the life of the building.”