‘Like a brother’

Senior Braden Ledebur leaves impact on PAL student


Courtesy of Braden Ledebur

Senior Braden Ledebur and his PAL Reagan Jackson have formed a special bond throughout the past two years.

Around 1 p.m. every Wednesday at Sloan Creek Intermediate School, 12 year old  Reagan Jackson’s face lights up at the sight of his PAL, senior Braden Ledebur.

In the half hour time frame the have for the Peer Assistance and Leadership [PALS] program, they go to the gym and play the sport of Reagan’s choosing. Through the use of hand motions and small words, Reagan tells Ledebur through sign language that he wants to play kickball. Though reticent in the hallways, Reagan’s laughter echoes through the gymnasium as soon their game begins.

With their 30 minutes coming to a close, Ledebur lets him know that their time is up. Pinching his fingers together to form O’s with his hands and then tapping them together, Reagan’s PAL reluctantly gives in and rolls the ball one more time. Sending the ball across the gym, Reagan laughs in triumph as the senior student goes to chase down the ball.

Walking him back to class and rewarding him with a sucker for his good behavior, Ledebur lets Reagan know he has to go and reminds him that he’ll see him next week to finish their game. Reagan then resumes his school day.

Ledebur has found ways to create a strong relationship with Reagan, who struggles with seizure disorder, speech impairment, intellectual disability, and clubfoot.

“I had originally met Reagan through PALS,” Ledebur said. “He was at a Special Olympics thing. His mom wanted me to work for her, so over the summer I would go over three to four times a week and work on social skills and behavior issues with him. I think there’s always a learning curve with the special needs. Each kid is unique, and you kind of have to feel the kids out.”

Ledebur’s impact on Reagan is seen by Leslie Jackson, Reagan’s mom.

“Reagan loves Braden,” Jackson said. “He enjoys a big boy, like a big brother, to hang with. They can do all sorts of boy things–mostly sports, as Reagan loves to watch and play sports.”

Babysitting one afternoon a week, visiting on Wednesdays, and seeing him at the Special Olympics created a stronger bond between Reagan and Ledebur. This opened social opportunities for Reagan and improved his speaking abilities.

“I think he has improved socially,” Jackson said. “Reagan has always been pretty outgoing, but I think it has given him more confidence. Braden is such a role model and has been a great influence on Reagan.”

Bonding with Reagan often, Ledebur has learned more about the 6th grader’s disabilities as well as what makes him happy.

Courtesy of Braden Ledebur
Braden and Reagan at a Dallas Mavericks game.

“For Reagan, it’s always the little things that make him so happy,” Ledebur said. “Like seeing me and getting to go swimming or knowing that I’m going to come on Wednesdays and play kickball with him. There’s also patience with communication barriers. I think the root of his behavioral issues is that he can’t communicate, so that frustrates him, but it’s something he’s learned to control better.”

Carey Tiff, one of Reagan’s teachers, said the PALS program benefits both the mentors and the students.

“I think it is a great opportunity for both kids,” Tiff said. “The student helpers learn to be patient and to work with students of all ability levels. The students receive the help benefits from the social interactions with their peers.”

Jackson said she is grateful for all the help Reagan receives from others at times when she or her husband can’t attend to his needs.

“Things that everyone takes for granted often are very hard to do when you have a child with special needs because they need your full attention,” Jackson said. “A special needs child takes a village, and we are so blessed with wonderful teachers, caregivers, and friends that help us with Reagan. It requires a lot of patience and time, but we couldn’t imagine our life without Reagan.”

Ledebur said the relationship built with Reagan has made an impact.

“It gives you a different perspective on life,” Ledebur said. “It’s kind of taught me to take a step back and let the little things make your day everyday. I’d like to work with special needs kids as long as I can. Whether it’s in college or whatever opportunities God presents to me in the future.”