AKRON, Ohio — When students at Akron's Hatton Community Learning Center learned earlier this year that one of their own kindergartners Elias Dietrich, was waging a battle with brain cancer they too vowed to be with him in this fight. His best friend Connor shaved his own head in solidarity and sent his buddy his best.
"I'm sorry that you have a big bump on your head," the kindergartner said.
The diagnosis, surgery, and subsequent treatments at Cincinnati Children's Hospital hitting all grades here.
"I don't think that anyone would think that anyone in our school would have cancer," said student Taylor Gordon.
Fellow student Sydney Lutz agreed.
"I couldn't imagine me going through that or anyone I know it would be so heartbreaking for the family."
Taylor and Sydney are two of seven girls in "Girls on the Run," a running club at the school that also teaches life lessons they won't find in a book or can't be measured by any test one of which is empathy. In Elias' fight, they could relate.
"I put myself in his shoes and I felt I wouldn't want to go through that," said student Josalyn Little.
Through Elias' older brother Bentley, a third-grader here, they learned how the family had benefited from the generosity of the Ronald McDonald House of Greater Cincinnati, able to stay by his side as a family as he underwent treatment.
"I learned that they actually got to stay for free at the Ronald McDonald House Charities of Greater Cincinnati and that's a huge load off on a family," said teacher Nicole Lugenbeal.
So the group decided to make "Team Elias" buttons to sell to not only show support but to pay forward the generosity shown to the Dietrichs by raising money for the Ronald McDonald house. On Monday, they presented a check for $354.
"It means a lot," said Elias' grandfather Steve Walker who was on hand for the emotional ceremony. "Elias is doing good. He has more good days than bad days we'll say."
Compassion, empathy, and appreciation are words we are all taught at some point in school but these young students in Akron know they aren't fully learned until they're lived.