Head Start Opens Up New World to Jaxson


When Ashley LaDoux and Robert Marlen learned their son had been diagnosed with polymicrogyria, their first thoughts were about his quality of life.

The Frazee couple was focused on getting through one day at a time, making sure Jaxson knew he was loved, he was properly fed, and his seizures were under control.

They were told Jaxson would likely never be able to walk, talk, or feed himself. The thought of him attending school wasn’t even on their radar. Even day care wasn’t an option for Jaxson because of all the assistance and special care he needed.

Then Ashley's sister mentioned Head Start, an early childhood program for pregnant women and children from birth to age 5.

“I had never seen anything about it,” Ashley said. “I decided to call and see, if anything, they had a home-based program.”

MAHUBE-OTWA Community Action Partnership delivers the Early Head Start and Head Start programs in Becker County, where Frazee is located.

The conversation didn’t go exactly the way Ashley expected after she told them about Jaxson’s medical conditions and physical limitations.

“They said ‘Absolutely, we have a place for him,’” Ashley recalls. “I said ‘Do you know how much accommodation he’ll need?’ She told me ‘We will do what we have to, to accommodate him.’”

And they did.

Head Start has specific programs for qualified children with disabilities. The organization has families work with disability service coordinators who can support them in the transition of attending class, providing the equipment, and other items needed for children to excel in the classroom.

“We offer everyone of our families a family coach,” said Jennifer Soule, MAHUBE-OTWA Head Start Family Services Manager. “They’re kind of like your best cheerleader. They’re nonjudgmental. They want to know what your hopes and dreams are and will help you get there.”

Jaxson was four years old at the time he enrolled in Head Start and had rarely spent time away from his mother, father, and their closest family members. This was a big shift for the family.

“I was so scared,” Ashley said. “I was the only one who ever had taken care of him.”

Jaxson was assigned a paraprofessional to accompany him throughout the school day. Ashley and Robert may have had separation anxiety, but Jaxson didn’t. From his first day of school, he thrived.

“When the bus brought him home, he cried,” Ashley said. He wanted to stay on the school bus, which had a wheelchair lift that became known as the “Jaxson-vator.”

Head Start opened up a new world for Jaxson, one that Ashley and Robert weren’t sure he’d ever be a part of.

“As a dad, I was scared,” Robert said about the reaction Jaxson would get from the other children.

Robert’s worries were quickly dispelled. Jaxson easily made friends in the classroom. His classmates clamored to be near him and to help him if needed. They didn’t care about him being in a wheelchair or unable to verbally communicate as well as them.

“People have always noticed he’s different, but he can do other things, just a bit differently,” Ashley said. “They wanted to be with Jaxson. They invited him in. They involved him.”

Jaxson also shocked his parents with the speed at which he learned.

He knows his letters and can write his name. He can count. He is also able to communicate with others through an electronic tablet the family navigator helped them obtain. And while Jaxson still struggles to speak, his aptitude for learning is beyond what the family thought was possible.

“He exceeded my expectations,” Ashley readily acknowledges. “I did not expect him to be as far as he is.”

Jaxson’s exceptional journey in Head Start earned him a 2023 Head Start Hero Award for A Life Story of Inspiration, Hope, and Excellence from the Minnesota Head Start Association. The family was presented the award a banquent ceremony.

“I feel like the best thing they got, in my humble opinion, is confidence,” Jennifer said of Jaxson's forray into Head Start. “The parents realized how much Jaxson can do. He made so many gains in one year. It opened everyone’s eyes. He has so much to offer and so much to give.”

Jaxson now attends kindergarten at Frazee-Vergas Elementary School.

“He’s really smart,” Ashley said proudly said of son. “That push from Head Start really got him ready for school.”