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Tea Boy Who Lost Limbs Starts Kindergarten



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Three years ago, he lost his arms and legs to a rare form of bacterial meningitis. Since then, we've watched Austin Schoppert Coffee grow and learn how to adapt to his new life.
    
Now, he's getting used to a new routine--school.

"He loves to color. He loves to play with Playdough. He's a little artist," said Heather Coffee, Austin's mother.
    
Just after Austin's limbs were amputated three years ago, it was hard to picture him coloring in his family's living room. But he is getting creative--both on the paper and in his world.
    
This fall Austin started school.

"For me, I was scared. But he did really good," joked Coffee.
    
Austin's teacher will tell you the same thing. When Tracy Schmidt first welcomed him to her kindergarten classroom, she knew it wouldn't be like other first days.

"There's a lot of questions of 'How do I do this?' 'How do I do that?' 'How can I make his life easier and be successful in school?', but after that first week, the aides and I were like, I mean, our mouths were on the floor half the time," said Schmidt.
    
Schmidt says when it comes to keeping up with his 18 classmates, Austin doesn't need much help. She's modified some of the school's "tools", like the scissors and a computer mouse, so he's able to do his own work in his own way.

"He's just like anybody else in here," said Schmidt. "The only thing he needs help with in here is when he comes in here with his wheelchair, he needs somebody to unbuckle him."
    
That independence impresses Schmidt and other teachers who work with him every day. They want to help him take those skills from school to home.

"With Austin, our goal is to make him as independent as possible," explained Schmidt.

"Just seeing how much success he has at school, wanting to carry that over into his everyday life--it just seems like the right thing to do," said Holly Peterson, another kindergarten teacher in Tea.
    
What these teachers are doing is raising money to help Austin's family move from this apartment into a house.

"He's amazing in the classroom, and the things he can do. It'll just be good to get him in a house that feels he can do all those things there, too," said Peterson.

"He needs a home. He needs a home where he can do things independently," said Schmidt.
    
It started with t-shirts featuring Austin's drawing of his future home, and he's already making plans for it.

"He wants a green house, and he wants a trampoline outside," said Coffee.
    
Coffee has some ideas, too.

"I want to put a doorknob, like, his height, doorknob down she he's able to open the door himself, some sort of bathroom for him because he's getting older," explained Heather. "We're not looking at anything fabulous. We just want the basics."
    
With a few fundraisers in the books, the fund for Austin's house is is growing. Schmidt and Peterson have a list of ideas for other ways to encourage donations, and they hope their community continues to rally around this soon-to-be 6-year-old.                

"In this community, we all help each other. We work together, and it's just a really good outlet to allow other people to help," said Peterson.

For now, though, everyone's focus is on keeping Austin learning and growing.

Austin turns 6 on Nov. 8. His family has started a blog to keep everyone updated on his progress.

The fund for Austin's house is set up through US Bank. Donations can be made at any branch.

j_mann@kdlt.com
@jennamannKDLT
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