Barb Heim, who’s taught first grade at Conneaut Valley Elementary in Conneautville, Pennsylvania, for 35 years, brought lessons to Harrison Conner when he couldn’t make it to class. Driving 20 minutes from school to his home every night, Heim says she’s the lucky one.
“It was a joy, because I knew he wanted to learn,” Heim told Today. “He couldn’t wait. He was so excited.”
Undergoing treatment, Harrison stayed home while his classmates returned to school for in-person learning last fall. Wearing a mask and a face shield, Heim tutored the second-grader through a plexiglass screen in a space carved out for study in his living room.
While the physical stresses of treatment sometimes meant Harrison had to take a rest day, Heim’s student “always did his best,” she said.
His mother, Suzanne, said that Heim has been “absolutely amazing,” ensuring her son never felt left out, and bringing joy every time she visited their home. Her other kids would even look forward to her visits, greeting her at the door.
“It’s not like a teacher is coming from school to teach,” said Suzanne. “She’s like an aunt who is coming over to hang out, and she brings goodies, and she is always bringing a smile … it’s incredibly, incredibly special.”
Harrison was diagnosed with leukemia in January 2020 after Heim noticed he was struggling during recess. He would turn pale and have to sit down while his classmates played, she said.
Heim told the school nurse—who, in turn, informed Harrison’s mom. Word eventually got back to Heim after Christmas break, when one of Harrison’s classmates broke the news to her.
“One of these little guys from my class walks in the doorway, makes a beeline to my desk, and says, ‘Mrs. Heim, Harrison went on a helicopter ride to the hospital,’” the teacher recalled.
The class felt their fellow classmate’s absence; but Heim found ways to keep him included in their activities, calling Harrison on Zoom every day after recess for story time. Heim would read the class a story; while the brave patient had a chance to check in with his friends at school.
She said he was a ray of sunshine who was sorely missed for his positive attitude and thirst for learning. “You could have 100 of him in a classroom and you would still take more, because he has that sense about him,” she explained.
“I’m lucky to be his teacher,” she added. “I’m the lucky one.”
At the time of writing, Harrison is in remission with 18 months of treatment remaining. Meanwhile, Suzanne is running a Facebook page, Harrison Strong, to keep followers updated on his progress.
Meeting others going through similar struggles as Harrison’s, he and his mom started actively fundraising for kids in need.
In May, the selfless second-grader put his own battle aside to help others, taking the now-viral “50 Yard Challenge“—where participants pledge to mow 50 lawns in their community for free.
“Our guy is at it again; that big heart never stops,” wrote Suzanne.