The Merry McCaugheys: The Septuplets at 8
Although the septuplets sometimes get raucous at home, they're model students at the public elementary school in Carlisle, Iowa, where they're in separate second-grade classes. "Last year was wonderful -- they all got excellent report cards," says Bobbi. While only fourth-graders and up get letter grades, the septuplets did well in reading and math; Natalie, Brandon and Joel were at the top of their class. Big sister Mikayla, 9, who'd been homeschooled until last fall, finished fourth grade with an impressive four A's and a B.
Nathan, who missed nearly two months of classes because of his surgery, and sister Alexis, whose speech and cognitive skills are impaired by cerebral palsy, got some extra help with their reading, writing, and arithmetic from Carlisle Elementary's first-grade special-education teacher, Valerie McCaughey, 49, who just happens to be Kenny Sr.'s stepmother. "The kids would come home and talk about her not as 'Grandma' but 'Mrs. McCaughey,'" Bobbi says. "And if one of the other students called her Grandma, my kids would say, 'Hey, she's not your Grandma, she's ours.'"Alexis's Thriving Educational and Physical Skills
Alexis thrived under the tutoring. "We know she'll never break records," says Bobbi. "We don't care if she can't read 50 words a minute as long as she's comprehending and retaining knowledge, which she is. For example, it took her a couple weeks to learn her vocabulary list of words that can't be sounded out, like 'enough' or 'two,' but once she did, she absolutely knew them from then on."
Bobbi does see room for improvement, however, when it comes to Alexis's physical skills. Cerebral palsy, specifically a condition known as hypotonic quadriplegia, has weakened the muscles in all her limbs. She will undergo an operation in a year or two to strengthen her feet, though apart from using a walker at school, she prefers to crawl. "Since starting physical therapy this year, Alexis is more willing to stand and walk on her own," Bobbi says. "But she's definitely not as motivated as Nathan."The Young Violinists Debut
Meanwhile, the children have been on hiatus from their other lessons -- on the violin -- since summer. The gang of eight, whose repertoire includes beginner classics like "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star" and "Shortnin' Bread," made their debut at the fiddle competition at the Iowa State Fair, in Des Moines, last year. "They played a couple of hoedown-, square dance-type numbers," Bobbi says. "They'd barely begun when people started yahooin' and yeehawin' and clap ping their hands. It was a hoot."
When Bobbi finds a new teacher -- their old one moved away -- only Mikayla, Kelsey, Natalie, and Brandon, who all showed talent, will be rosining their bows. The downsizing is balm to Kenny's ears. "It's not the easiest instrument to listen to when they're practicing -- pretty loud and screechy," he says, chuckling.