Pennsylvania teacher Barb Heim’s day is not complete until she delivers the day’s lesson to a student fighting for his life.
Heim is in her 35th year as a first-grade teacher at Conneaut Valley Elementary School in Conneautville, Pennsylvania, and wants second-grader Harrison Conner to keep his learning on track as he is being treated for leukemia.
Conner isn’t able to attend in-person classes and is in remote schooling due to his medical condition. Heim wears a mask and a face shield as she gives him the day’s lesson through a Plexiglass screen at a table in Harrison’s home.
Heim spoke during Teacher Appreciation Week about their special bond, “It was a joy because I knew he wanted to learn,” she said. “He couldn’t wait. He was so excited.”
“And he’d have his off days if medicine was causing him to not feel up to it. It wasn’t the best day for him, but we made it through. And he always did his best.”
In 2019, she first started noticing something wrong with Harrison when during recess instead of being active, he would look pale and have to sit. The school informed Harrison’s mother, Suzanne about it, and then Heim found out about Harrison’s diagnosis.
“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,”’ Heim said.
His absence at school was felt by his teacher and classmates. “Oh, he’s an amazing little guy,” Heim said. “He is so much fun in class. You could have 100 of him in a classroom, and you would still take more because he has that sense about him. He wants to learn. He loves to learn new things.”
Heim made sure she and the class remained connected with Harrison on Zoom every day after recess even when Zoom hadn’t become as popular as it is now. She would read a story while his classmates said hello to him.
When the pandemic happened, Heim jumped into action to help Harrison remain connected and not lag behind the rest. “It goes far beyond her just coming here for school,” Suzanne Conner said. “Ever since the minute he was diagnosed … she has been absolutely amazing. She has kept Harrison such a part of the kids’ lives in school and making sure that he feels remembered.
“It’s not like a teacher is coming from school to teach, she’s like an aunt who is coming over to hang out, and she brings goodies, and she is always bringing a smile,” she said. “My kids will meet her at the front door with all the latest news and it’s incredibly, incredibly, special.”
Even as Harrison is in remission now, he still has a year and a half of treatment left. The Conner household has put visits on hold due to a COVID-19 scare, but as for Heim, she says she thinks about Harrison every day. “I’m lucky to be his teacher,” she said. “I’m the lucky one.”