MODESTO — Brock Blakeley struggles with schoolwork, but making friends comes easy especially when kids such as fifth-grader Andres Guerrero take the first step.
At Freedom Elementary in north Modesto, Andres and a groups of schoolmates have made Brock part of their daily lunch crowd, their recess teams, their library buddies and even one of the traffic patrol, holding the stop sign every Wednesday.
"It's not typical for these typical kids to embrace " mom Brenda Blakeley's voice trails off. How to describe this very determined, very social fourth-grader with a learning handicap is tough for grown-ups, but not for fifth-graders.
"He's just really funny and awesome to play with," said Cameron Walker. "He's good at soccer. It's not even fun without him there."
Blake Antle said Brock is good at sports, but also has a soft spot for kids who get injured. "When I was hurt, he came up to me and said, 'You all right?' He always does that. It's like he protects us," Blake said.
"I've been playing with him all year and I saw he liked signing (safety patrol)," Andres said.
"Oh, yeah, baby!" interjects Brock, and the group cracks up.
"He's really funny," said Joshua Doyle.
"Everybody in school knows him, and he knows them and gives them nicknames," Cameron said.
Brock's nickname for the group is "the big boys," and on Wednesday, he's excited to see them.
The group gathers in the school office, a laughing, chattering crush of youngsters with Brock right in the thick of it.
Wednesday was Brock's last day on traffic patrol, and today is goodbye for the school year. Next year, Brock's special-education class will move to Standiford Elementary, Blakeley said, and the big boys will move on to Savage Middle School.
"I'm just trusting he'll find friends next year," Blakeley said. But, she adds, finding kids this willing to embrace him has been pretty special.