Heather Piccoli teaches art at Thalia Elementary School in Virginia Beach, Virginia, and through her charitable activity in her local community, she has also taken on bullying.
Grace Scholefield recalled being bullied in the fifth-grade. Art class with Piccoli “made everything better,” Grace said.
“She made me feel good about myself, good about my art and the bullies just kind of disappeared in my mind after that,” she said, adding: “She told everyone, especially me during that time, ‘Just be myself.’”
Piccoli, who has been teaching for 13 years, even painted a commemorative art project titled “Just Be” for the Virginia Beach school system.
“She is really a ‘Just Be’ person,” her husband, J Paul Piccoli, told ABC News. “Loving, caring and giving back.”
“To know Heather is to love her. The students adore her,” the teacher’s colleague, Dana Hand, said.
“They call her Miss Pickle because they can’t pronounce Piccoli right,” J Paul Piccoli explained.
Hand told ABC News that Piccoli holds monthly fundraisers where her students participate. In that way, the students realize the focus shouldn’t always be on themselves.
“Just when you think you are done with one charity or one fundraiser, she comes up with something else,” her husband said.
He said he and his wife are unable to have children right now, despite two years of fertility treatments.
“We were going through fertility treatments for two years, and it takes a lot of time which takes away from her and her passion,” he said, fighting back tears. “There's no one deserving more to be a mother than her. She is a mother to these kids in a way.”
“Heather wholeheartedly deserves this honor of above and beyond,” Shannon Thompson, another friend and colleague, said.
“It has been a very inspirational thing to be around this woman for 30 plus years,” her husband added.
ABC News’ T. J. Holmes visited Piccoli’s community, where her friends and about 700 students were preparing to give her a huge surprise show of public gratitude for her efforts.
To help distract his wife, Piccoli showed up with a beautiful bouquet of flowers and took her out to lunch while, at school, her students and fellow teachers created an elaborate aerial art formation in an empty field of the phrase “Just Be” from her art project.
When Holmes asked the art teacher for her thoughts on the surprise, she replied: “I’m in shock!”
She became emotional when she saw a bird’s-eye view of the installation.
“Oh, my God, I love it!,” she said, covering her mouth in disbelief. “That is so awesome.”
Piccoli was also presented with a 3-D printer from MakerBot. She had been trying to raise funds to purchase one of the devices for her classroom.
“Yay!!,” she said, shocked by the donation. “This was great, thank you. That was so incredible. It was very fun to see my artwork come to life with people.”
But the surprises didn’t end there.
Heather and J Paul Piccoli traveled to New York to appear on “Good Morning America” today, where she was surprised once again with a video message from country singer Brad Paisley, who offered the teacher VIP concert tickets and the chance to go backstage to meet him at his show in Virginia Beach this weekend.
“This is totally not expected,” she said. “It still feels very surreal. Thank you! I can’t wait. Thank you. This is a big honor. Thank you.”