Kathryn, Emma, Charlee and Baylee turned 5 in April, graduated from preschool and went to kindergarten in August with the rest of the class of 2024.
“They were ready,” Karlyn Brence said of her daughters, although it wasn’t an automatic decision for her and her husband, John. “We debated. We contemplated holding them back. But by the end of preschool, they were not content at home. I think we made the right decision. They’ve really changed over the summer.”
The girls’ preschool teachers and directors met last spring with Westside Elementary teachers and administrators to ensure a smooth transition. Karlyn said she wanted them placed in pairs, but at the same school. All four in one room would lead to bedlam because “they feed off each other.” She asked for Emma and Baylee to be placed in one class, with Charlee and Kathryn together in the other, hoping their personalities would complement each other in the classroom.
Baylee is “really studious, really focused on her schoolwork,” Karlyn said. “She loves to color.”
Emma is a talker, although she has been somewhat slower to meet new people at school. She brings home the stories, though.
“Everything depends on what this person did or what this sister did,” Karlyn said.
Emma and Baylee were assigned to Darci Ostermiller. Charlee and Kathryn are in Cindi Smith’s class.
Kathryn is “outgoing and chipper and bossy,” Karlyn said, while Charlee is “very independent and very much of a tomboy.”
In fact, Charlee came home from school and “informed me she’s going to meet all the boys and then move on to the girls,” Karlyn said with a laugh.
How is kindergarten so far?
“Good,” chorused the four, before heading off to their room to saddle up for a stick horse race.
Mornings start early at the Brence home. Everyone is up well before 6 a.m. Mornings bring their own challenges — Emma and Baylee like to lie in bed, while “the other two just pop right up” — but mostly things run smoothly, Karlyn said.
After breakfast and a backpack check, the girls board the school bus by 7:10, and the house is quiet for the day.
“I get antsy waiting for them to come home,” Karlyn admitted. They arrive by bus at about 4:10 p.m. — a long day, but “they seem to be doing well.”
Smith said she and other Westside teachers were excited to hear the Brence four would attend their school.
“We thought it was really cool to get to have them come to our school,” she said. “It’s been great. They’re lots of fun.”
Charlee and Kathryn are in Smith’s class, where she spent time with all the students talking about things that make each person unique. She does this at the beginning of every year, part of helping little kids adjust to spending all day with their classmates for the next dozen years.
“We’ve talked about how each of us is who we are,” Smith said. “Who’s tall? Who’s short?”
And the girls aren’t even the only ones in kindergarten with red hair — a few other students sport the relatively rare hair color, four in Darci Ostermiller’s class alone.
Smith said she’s noticed that the quadruplets seem to enjoy being somewhat on their own. In her room, Charlee and Kathryn “take care of themselves. They’re not worried about one or the other. They seem to do a good job of just being who they are.”
Ostermiller has Emma and Baylee in her room. The teachers enjoy the novelty of having quadruplets at school, she said, but students haven’t taken much notice.
“The kids don’t view them as ‘the quads,’” Ostermiller said. “They’re special and unique because they are who they are.”
“I think that they are perfectly suited” for her class, Ostermiller said, calling the exuberant girls “joy in a red-headed body.”
One day, Karlyn came to help at school. Ostermiller said she introduced her as mom to Emma and Baylee, then mentioned that she was also mom to Charlee and Kathryn, which stunned some of her students who had made no connection among the four girls. Few kids have even commented on how much each set of two, or all four, look alike.
“I have to say that the two I have in my class are so eager to be here,” Ostermiller said. “They are so proud when they know the answer. They love participating.”
Ostermiller said Emma and Baylee have found their own way and don’t rely solely on each other.
“Not only do they play independently, but they’re proud of their new friends,” she said. “They really branched off to find their own friends.”
She sees their delight in doing their own thing. At the school library, students are allowed to choose books every day. Baylee found a dolphin book, and Emma checked out a unicorn book.
“I don’t know if she’s always loved dolphins, but she was so proud of that book,” Ostermiller said. In fact, she wondered if Baylee would bring it back (she did). Both girls were happy to “express their own unique opinions.”
Brent Walker said having quadruplets at school hasn’t presented any particular challenges to him as school principal. As with all students, he considers them individuals rather than a set of four.
With the Brences, Walker said he would like to “probably stay a little more aware of any problems that start to develop between the siblings or between the siblings and the rest of the class,” although he doesn’t anticipate any problems.
“They’re just individual kids,” Walker said. “It just makes it more fun.”
The quadruplets were born in a Denver hospital in 2005, becoming instantly popular around town and even among strangers. After five years, Karlyn is used to being accosted by strangers who ask inappropriate questions (“How long were you pregnant?) and she’s prepared for even an ordinary trip to the store with her kids to become an adventure.
“I understand that people are just curious,” she said. “It’s definitely not something people see every day.” Sometimes, “I just want to put my head down” to get through the store without answering any more questions.
She has developed some strategies to keep everything running at home. The girls share bunk beds in two bedrooms. Karlyn uses a spin chart similar to a board game spinner that moves them from room to room and bunk to bunk so everyone shares equally. Each checks out one library book, but all four can read them if they want. Even bath night has become a fun ritual rather than a chore.
Some days the girls dress alike; some days they don’t.
“They don’t complain either way,” Karlyn said.
Many people think she is dealing with so much more than other parents with her four girls, Karlyn said. But she and John see the children and each other as a normal family, although they are grateful they have escaped serious medical issues that can affect premature infants, particularly multiples.
“I don’t feel that much different than any other mom with four kids,” she said. “I don’t think I want four and a little one. That’s not on my list of things to do.”