Nova Scotia

Teen with Down syndrome asks teaching assistant to prom — she says 'Absolutely!'

Educational program assistant Paula LeBlanc says she wanted to help her former student Mason Slade enjoy the event with his peers.

Mason Slade knew for 3 years he wanted to take his former educational program assistant to high school prom

Paula LeBlanc and Mason Slade have their photo taken before attending Prince Andrew High School's prom on Monday evening. (Jenna Morrison)

When 19-year-old Mason Slade was asked who he wanted to take to the prom, he didn't miss a beat.

"Paula," came the reply.

He knew because he'd been planning to ask her for three years.

He talked about it every day.

"That's all he kept telling me — 'Prom, Paula. Paula, prom,'" says Slade's sister and guardian, Jenna Morrison. "He loves Paula so much. She's amazing. She's so kind and sweet and she's always looked out for Mason."

Paula LeBlanc lives down the street from Slade in Dartmouth, N.S., and for three years worked as his educational program assistant when he was in junior high.

Slade, 19, is graduating from Prince Andrew High School in Dartmouth, N.S. (Jenna Morrison)

Morrison says Slade, who has Down syndrome, often just speaks in two- or three-word utterances and can be shy around some people. But LeBlanc has always been able to break through that, understanding him and drawing out his "big goof" personality.

LeBlanc often jokes around with him, sometimes calling him "Justin" after his idol, Justin Bieber.

So when Slade said he wanted to take LeBlanc to his high school prom, Morrison knew she had to take action. They bought some flowers and showed up on LeBlanc's doorstep.

"He came right over to me with the flowers and he said I was so cute and could I go to prom," says LeBlanc. "And I said, 'Oh absolutely.'"

This wasn't LeBlanc and Slade's first time attending prom together. She accompanied him to his junior high prom in Grade 9 so he could take part in the event with all his friends.

LeBlanc and Slade pose for photos at Sullivans Pond in Dartmouth. (Jenna Morrison)

But going to high school prom was in one way a bit poignant for LeBlanc.

Thirty-seven years ago, she had to leave school — the same school Slade attends, Prince Andrew High School in Dartmouth — in Grade 12 and start working "due to some difficult family situations."

"When he asked me I thought, 'Oh this is my opportunity to go back to my school and have prom with him, share it with him, and it would also be like my old prom — but the way it should have been.'"

On Monday night, Slade was listening to Justin Bieber as he coiffed his hair à la Biebs and got dressed in a full tux with hints of "Justin Bieber purple" on his tie and socks.

LeBlanc lives down the street from Slade and worked as his educational assistant for three years when he was in junior high. (Jenna Morrison)

When LeBlanc arrived to pick him up, he had flowers at the ready.

"As soon as she walked through the door in the dress he was like, 'Oh wow, princess,'" says his sister. "It was so cute."

The pair waltzed to Hedley's Perfect and "rocked it out" to other songs on the dance floor, says LeBlanc. They enjoyed fancy non-alcoholic drinks and Slade ate four plates of poutine before they headed home around 11 p.m.

"His final words as I dropped him off were thank you and a big hug," says LeBlanc.

Morrison says she's grateful LeBlanc was able to help her brother experience his high school prom.

"I can't even describe how thankful I am for her and how that really lit up his whole year and his whole life.… Forever, he'll always have those memories."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Frances Willick is a journalist with CBC Nova Scotia. Please contact her with feedback, story ideas or tips at frances.willick@cbc.ca

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