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9-year-old burn survivor succeeds in classroom
Gracie Turpin is Centennial Arts Academy 4th-grader
Gracie Turpin, 9, follows along with the teacher Thursday morning at Centennial Arts Academy. A fire badly burned Gracie when she was 2 years old, resulting in the loss of her fingers, but she easily uses a pencil with both hands.

Gracie Lowell Turpin reads, writes and, according to her big brother Tyler, loves music and recess.

No matter that Gracie, 9, lost most of her fingers and a leg in a house fire when she was 2 years old.

“She’s very proud of herself,” said Gracie’s mother, Darlene Miller. “She’s behind grade level, but she’s doing great. At the beginning, after the house fire, her head had a deep hole and they had to regranulate it. I’ve seen some children who this got to their mind. But Gracie, she is just so blessed.”

Miller’s family has come a long way since that day in 2008, when Miller, Gracie’s grandfather, Tyler and Gracie were trapped in their burning home. Tyler survived after Miller threw him out a window to a waiting neighbor below.

Since then, Gracie, a fourth-grader at Centennial Arts Academy, has developed well. She struggled to recognize letters of the alphabet as a kindergartner, but now she’s a strong reader and writer, grasping a pen between her two hands to drag it easily across the paper.

“Something happened from kindergarten to first grade. Like that,” Miller said, snapping her fingers, “she started getting it.”

When Gracie started at the school, it was initially hesitant to assign her a full-time paraprofessional. Parapros are a valuable commodity in a school system, but Miller said she was insistent Gracie have that help.

“Even something like if she dropped a pencil,” Miller said. “She shouldn’t have to ask a classmate to pick it up for her. The mama duck in me worries about that.”

Miller and Gracie work with Centennial on an individualized education plan for Gracie. The school uses this plan to monitor how Gracie is progressing academically and to ensure she has the support she needs in the classroom.

According to her aunt Tracy Turpin, Gracie is a normal fourth-grader, who thinks school is “boring” and loves recess.

“She likes reading, social studies, recess, but her favorite is music,” said Tyler, who’s in fifth grade at Centennial. He loves science and gym, and he’s looking forward to dissecting a frog when he gets to middle school.

Miller said she’s immensely proud of both her children. Just last week, Gracie started wearing a prosthesis for her leg. She’s already faster than her teachers.

Miller said Gracie’s biggest strength is her spirit.

“She never complains,” Miller said. “Sometimes, when I’m around other adults whining or complaining, I have very little sympathy, because of my daughter. Her spirit is amazing, and she doesn’t let anything get her down.”

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