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Former teacher of year balances job, triplets

Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan Jennifer Dunn a fifth grade teacher at Pharr Elementary School walks down the hall with her children, Ella, left, Cameron and Anneleise after checking her school mailbox in Snellville Tuesday. Her kids are kindergarteners at Pharr Elementary.

Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan Jennifer Dunn a fifth grade teacher at Pharr Elementary School walks down the hall with her children, Ella, left, Cameron and Anneleise after checking her school mailbox in Snellville Tuesday. Her kids are kindergarteners at Pharr Elementary.

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Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan Former Gwinnett County Public Schools Teacher of the Year, Jennifer Dunn poses for a portrait with her six year old triplets Cameron, Anneleise, right, and Ella.

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Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan Former Gwinnett County Public Schools Teacher of the Year, Jennifer Dunn is a mother of six year old triplets Cameron, Anneleise and Ella, right,. Jennifer a fifth grade math teacher spends time with her children in her classroom at Pharr Elementary School after school in Snellville Tuesday.

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Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan Words of wisdom that reads "No one ever said it was easy, just that it was worth it." hangs in the classroom of fifth grade teacher Jennifer Dunn, a mother of six year old triplets Cameron, Anneleise and Ella.

SNELLVILLE -- Cameron, Anneleise and Ella like a good joke.

Their 6-year-old voices often entwine as they answer questions and speak their piece on any given number of topics, but when the talk stops, Anneleise finds her moment to shine.

"What did the scissors and the paper say when they walked in the room?"

A smile spreads across her face, tapping fingers on the table, anxious to unleash the punchline.

"Supplies!"

The girl and her siblings are triplets, the offspring of Gwinnett County Public Schools' 2012 districtwide teacher of the year, Jennifer Dunn and husband, Mike.

Like their mother, a Pharr Elementary fifth-grade math teacher, the triplets walk the halls of the Snellville school every day often wondering when they'll bump into one another.

Afternoons after school and mornings before the bell are spent in their mother's classroom before fifth-graders come in to take their seats. The triplets then set off for their kindergarten classes, where earlier this week each child made mom a Mother's Day gift.

"Are you going to tell me what it is?" asks mom, sitting with the young trio in her classroom on a recent afternoon.

The answer: a resounding, harmonious "Nooooooo ... "

"You'll never guess what it is," Cameron adds.

As the proud mother sits with her triplets -- for whom she once endured 100 days of bed rest, innumerable sleepless nights and the terrible 2s -- she can't help but remember a time when doctors told her she'd never bear children, back when the idea of Mother's Day wasn't a happy thought.

But several years later, "after many prayers and a great doctor," the family was "blessed with our three little miracles."

As the Dunn family and their trio of bouncy, blond-haired children observe the annual celebration honoring maternal bonds, mom and dad will be doing the same thing they always do on Sunday afternoons: "living and breathing Google Calendar."

The online organizer, Jennifer said, lets them at least pretend to have a handle on "the chaos."

"It's a big balancing act," she said. "We don't know how we're even doing it sometimes."

The interesting days are when mom is walking the halls of Pharr Elementary and notices either Anneleise or Ella -- who are all but identical -- sporting two right-footed shoes while the other steps in stride with two left-footed shoes. "They share shoes, so of course that happens. That's the craziness we live in," she said, laughing.

Laughter, Jennifer said, is a common theme at the Dunn household.

"We always laugh," Dunn said. "That's the best way to deal with everything that's going on ..."

As if taking a cue from mom, Cameron offers up a joke:

"Why was the skeleton afraid to cross the road?"

The boy smiled.

"Because he didn't have the guts."

Ba-dum ching.

Much like Cameron's quips, daily mishaps such as mismatched clothes make for a good laugh.

"With the little things, we just have to laugh," Jennifer said. "What else can you do?"

She said that husband, Mike, a sixth-grade teacher at Grace Snell Middle School, helps her keep a sense of humor about things in times of a seeming crisis.

"He's Mr. Laid-back," she said. "I'm the organizer. He's helped me learn that we just need to take it one day at a time. As long as we nail down the basics: 'Did everyone eat today?' Did everyone get dressed?'"

Ella recounts a typical morning in the life with mom "running around the house saying, 'We're late! We're late! We're late!'"

Offering a thought on the matter, Anneleise picks up where her sister left off: "Mom always drinks coffee."

And Ella remembers something else about the morningtime hustle and so on until both young-girl voices merge in a swirl of giggling, high-pitched recollection.

The girls as well as Cameron seem to find comfort in one another's voices, any semblance of shyness disappearing in group-speak.While they may look and sound alike, all three are very much their own little person.

Cameron is partial to PE at school. He enjoys playing soccer, basketball, baseball, and he's a big fan of both the Gwinnett and Atlanta Braves.

Anneleise likes different types of art, but "especially butterfly art."

Ella is a young techie, often walking the hallways of home and school toting an iPad. "I like playing with computers," she said.

When asked what Mother's Day means to them, all three reply in harmony with an almost-musical answer: "Ummmmm..."

Anneleise speaks on their behalf: "Mother's Day means giving gifts, because gifts are special. And mothers are special."

Around her neck, Jennifer wears one of her favorite Mother's Day gifts from several years back: a silver necklace bearing the names of her children. She touches the piece of jewelry, nodding her head.

"I always thought being a mother would be easier. It's 10 times more challenging than I ever thought, but it's always rewarding when I'm walking down the halls and one of them waves at me, or when we sit down at dinner and share a laugh."

Much like mom, dad, sister and brother, 6-year-old Ella likes a good laugh too.

"Knock knock?" Ella asks.

Who's there?

"Supplies."

Supplies who?

"Supplies! Supplies!" she shouts.

Leaning toward mom, she cups her hand, whispering: "I don't think that made sense. I just made that up, pretty much."