Five fifth-grade boys in Mankato, Minnesota, students at Franklin Elementary were awarded by the Mankato Area Public Schools with a Spirit of Youth Award.
Mallory Howk, their teacher, nominated them after witnessing the boys interacting with James Willmert. Young James is the boys’ schoolmate and has a learning disability. His father, who recently adopted him from an orphanage in Colombia, had died from a bicycle accident.
The five young boys, however, were not thinking of getting the award they could receive for befriending James. “He’s an awesome kid to hang out with,” one of the boys, Jake Burgess, says.
It was also Jake who first saw James getting bullied during recess. While the bullying wasn’t physically violent, Jake and his friends Jack Pemble, Tyler Jones, Gus Gartzke, and Landon Kopischke stated that it upset them to see James being mistreated by schoolmates.
“They were taking advantage of him,” Jake further says.
The five boys then decided to befriend James to protect him from his bullies.
They started by inviting James over to their table during their lunch breaks and it has now become a regular activity for the six boys. When James is unable to open his bag of chips, he simply holds it up and one of the boys will willingly take it from him to open it.
Howk said that the boys’ friendship makes her feel proud of being their teacher. She also believes that while anti-bullying programs in the school are inspiring students, the students’ kindness should also be instinctive.
Margi Willmert, James’ mother, is thankful for the five boys for their kindness. She also says that before being befriended by the boys, James did not enjoy recess and lunch. Now, James barely eats his food as he is excited to play with these boys.