A gift of gratitude: Brookfield East alumni surprise beloved history teacher

A gift of gratitude: Brookfield East alumni surprise beloved history teacher

BROOKFIELD, Wis. (CBS 58) -- Brookfield East High School alumni are proving the impact educators have on students long after the classroom.

Hundreds of past students collaborated to give a beloved history teacher a surprise gift ahead of spring break.

Patrick Coffey has taught world history at Brookfield East for 28 years, and his students attest to his unique teaching style.

"He's just so much fun, and with so much energy," said Michael Geracie, a 2006 graduate.

"He makes it cool to be a nerd, a history nerd. He makes it cool to be interested in the world," said 2008 graduate, Alex Palmer.

Many of Mr. Coffey's students pursued history careers because of him, and his encouragement to travel the world.

"It's a pretty formidable challenge to engage teenagers day after day, and the fact that he can do it and foster enthusiasm for learning is just remarkable," said Vijaya Rao, a 2002 graduate.

With more than a year of secret planning, Coffey's former students have been working to gift him a dream trip.

"I started talking to his wife, and she said, 'He loves New Orleans -- the history, the culture, the music," Palmer said. "What if we could raise some money to send him there?"

Palmer created an online fundraiser with a $10,000 goal. They met that number within a week, and more donations poured in from hundreds of alumni.

On Monday, familiar faces brought a special delivery to Mr. Coffey's classroom: a $16,500 check for a trip to New Orleans, and an alumni memory book.

"Really, honestly, I'm so blown away," Coffey said, completely surprised.

Though nearly speechless, Coffey called the surprise "a teacher's dream."

"You care about your students, and you want to make sure you're doing the best for them and by them," Coffey said.

"Mr. Coffey changed my life, and he changed the lives of hundreds and thousands of other students," Palmer said.

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