Half a dozen 4- to 7-year-olds trooped onto a mat at the ATA Martial Arts school in Minot and assumed a martial arts stance, mimicking the one demonstrated by 11-year-old Jesse Ward.
Now and then Jesse corrected the arm position of one of the taekwondo students or instructed another to move her foot out differently.
When Jesse is in teacher mode, he's "Mr. Ward" to the "Tiny Tigers" at the school, and even ATA Martial Arts owner Daniel Merck calls his young colleague "sir."
Andrea Johnson/MDN - - Jesse Ward, 11, right, is an assistant teacher at American Taekwondo Association or ATA Martial Arts school. Here he demonstrates a move to younger students during a class held on March 14.
Andrea Johnson/MDN - - Jesse Ward, 11, right, is a sixth-grader at Bell Elementary.
Andrea Johnson/MDN - - Jesse Ward, right, has been in a leadership program with ATA Martial Arts owner Daniel Merck, left, for more than three years.
It's not unusual for a child to team-teach a class at the ATA Martial Arts. Jesse is one of the students in Merck's Leadership program and won an award for being Junior Leader of the Year last month at the Region 114 conference of the American Taekwondo Association in Iowa. He was chosen for the honor among hundreds of kids in the four- state region of North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota and Iowa.
Jesse, a sixth-grader at Bell Elementary, has been in Merck's leadership program since December 2007.
What makes Jesse a bit different from the other Young Leaders is his level of maturity, said Merck.
Merck said he still supervises the classes that Jesse helps teach, "because he is a kid," but said he probably wouldn't have to. Most other teachers Jesse's age would be able to teach part of a class and then have an adult step in and take over again.
"He can start a class, teach it and end it," Merck said. "He can really just be left alone."
Jesse assists in teaching three to four classes a week, has participated in the ATA Martial Arts' demonstration team, and competes in tournaments and has done well there too.
Jesse is a second-degree black belt in taekwondo. It took him more than two years to earn that honor. He'd like to keep studying with Merck until he attains his fifth-degree black belt, which would take more time.
Jesse was 6 when he started taking taekwondo classes with his sister. They got their black belts together. His sister quit taekwondo, but Jesse wanted to continue.
"I just kept going because it's fun," Jesse said.
Jesse's mom, Angie, said she thinks Jesse has gotten other benefits from being part of the class.
"I think he likes the structure and he loves to help the kids," said Angie Ward.
Jesse is also a straight-A student and teachers often remark on how polite he is, she said. He sticks up for other kids and lets teachers know if someone is being bullied. Merck's lessons have helped Jesse deal with difficult times in his own life, said his mom.
Merck has taught the students to deal with their frustrations in a positive manner.
"He has been a great role model for other students," said Merck, who owns the studio with his wife, Tina.