Jax Randles began dropping out of school in 6th grade. And while officials would bring him to truancy court time and time again, he never fully went back — until he found his way to Bethel Acceleration Academies.
“I refused to go to school for 4 years,” says Jax. “Every time I would see a judge I would say ‘I can go to school,’ and the next day I would have so much anxiety that I couldn’t go.”
The reluctance sprang from multiple sources — a childhood in which his parents grappled with drug addiction, his own struggles with depression and anxiety, and over time, the realization that the child who had gone by the name of a girl came to see that he was a boy.
While Jax never felt at ease in other schools, he said, he immediately felt at home at BAA. The quiet, studious atmosphere, the gentle support of his teachers and mentors, an atmosphere that embraces learners exactly as they are — all contribute to his sense of focus and calm.
“I can’t even explain how amazing this school is,” he says. “They saved my life. Without them, I wouldn’t be able to get my diploma.”
Jax is just one of many LGBTQ students who find their way at Acceleration Academies, where the emphasis on personalized learning extends beyond academics to provide emotional, social and other support to help young people clear away obstacles and reach their goals.
Jax says the educators at BAA make him feel comfortable asking for extra help. “I’ve never been the one to ask for help, but with them I’m comfortable asking for help.”
He also credited BAA Director and math coach Alison Hansen with sharing her love of math and helping him reach even higher. “Coach Alison is really cool,” he says. “I love math.”
At BAA, Jax has found support for his journey toward proud self-identification as a transgender man. As a child, Jax answered to the name Hannah, wore girls’ clothing and wore his hair long. But he also loved cars, getting dirty and wearing boys’ clothing.
After storing his girls’ clothing in a garage for a year, he realized it was time to donate the items to Goodwill and come into himself. “Finally understanding that I’m not a girl,” he says. “I don’t think I ever was.”
Acceleration Academies educators called him by his preferred name and used his preferred pronouns (he/him). He also found solidarity with a classmate from his old school who enrolled at BAA, and another graduation candidate who is also transgender.
“We call ourselves the Three Musketeers,” he says, acknowledging that they have not always been the quietest learners on campus. “We were chaotic.”
During the year when the Covid-19 pandemic closed BAA and other schools, Jax said he found working at home on online courses and getting one-on-one support via Zoom has helped him increase his productivity. Even when he gets distracted and falls off pace, he says, the BAA team stays with him.
Jax’s mother, Deborah Dwyer, says BAA has been a gift to her son — and to her. “He’s struggled most of his life in school, and I’m so happy with the opportunities he’s found at Bethel Acceleration Academies.”
Jax says his mother has been nothing but on his side. “It just breaks my heart to know that parents can disown their children for being transgender,” he says. “My mom supports me through whatever.”
He hopes his high school diploma will pave the way for him to go to art school, refine his skills and put them to work as a tattoo artist. And he hopes others who are looking for a learning home to look into Acceleration Academies.
“Yes, it is small but the work that goes on inside is just incredible,” says Jax. “I never thought I’d be able to go to school again.”