Fueling empowered learners and compassionate communities through the science of being human.

Our Team

Meet the people behind Cajal Academy, and contact us to find out how you can join our mission.

 
CViirand-Prism-Exec_Dir.jpg

Cheryl

Cheryl Viirand, B.A., J.D., Co-Founder, President & Head of School 

Cheryl Viirand is the co-founder, President and Head of School of Cajal Academy, Inc. As a social entrepreneur, former attorney and adoptive Mom with two “twice exceptional” kids, Cheryl believes firmly that solving the only thing more valuable than solving problems for one child is solving problems for many of them. After concluding that there is presently no school available in Fairfield County, NY providing neuroscience-driven, ‘whole human’ education for bright, gifted or twice exceptional students with an understanding of the physiological elements that influence their life-lived experiences, Cheryl teamed up with Heather Edwards, the occupational therapist whom she had seen transform her own children’s lives, to create one.

Cheryl’s journey to founding Cajal Academy began with her own experiences as a child with a chronic and little-understood connective tissue disorder (Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, or “EDS”) that has a wide and ever-shifting array of physical and neurocognitive impacts. Watching her own two kids growing up with the same challenging condition, she increasingly saw the social, learning and emotional disconnects caused as their gifts, challenges and life-lived experiences differed from those of their peers and the adults into whose care they’d been entrusted. Because the nature of EDS lays bare the myriad complex interactions between neurological, immunological, emotional and cognitive experiences, Cheryl began to pull together the complex physiological inter-connections that inform what it means to be human, with the help of an extraordinary team of experts. Following their lead, she soon saw that by sharing the basic science behind their differences, along with research-backed tools they can use to manage them, her kids gained agency over their challenges, an appreciation of their own strengths – and the resiliency they needed to thrive. Extending this philosophy and data-driven approach to all aspects of their learning profiles, the results were transformative.

From this was born the integrated and data-driven approach behind Cajal Academy, and our commitment to building personalized instructional programs for the “whole human” – from awareness of our emotions to how we approach math. This starts with a scientific “deep dive” into each learner’s neuropsychological profile to identify their most effective “learning language:” the modality that best plays to their neurocognitive strengths. We also identify their greatest learning weaknesses: those neurocognitive challenges that threaten to hold them back. Each learner’s personalized curriculum is then architected to deliver new content through their primary learning language – while using games and scientifically-backed therapies to improve their areas of weakness through the principles of neuroplasticity. This is paired with coaching, integrated into all aspects of the day, in personalized strategies to help each learner self-monitor, self-manage and self-advocate with respect to their own challenges as of that state in their healing and developmental process.

By bringing these elements together into one program, we can give kids a powerful toolbox that they can use to optimize their own social, emotional and learning outcomes while experiencing the fullness of their own unique gifts. The result can be transformative – both for children confronting learning, physical or social roadblocks and for their typically-developing peers.

Cheryl is a generalist problem solver and a former litigator with the firm of Davis Polk & Wardwell. A “mom-on-a-mission” social entrepreneur, she is also the founder of Freedible, Inc., the social sharing platform where families with dietary constraints can find and share the recipes, life hacks and community they need to thrive. Cheryl holds a B.A. from Barnard College and a J.D. from New York University School of Law.

Heather%2BEdwards.jpg

Heather

Heather Edwards, MSOTR/L, Co-Founder and Director of Therapeutic Services  

Cajal Academy is founded on Heather’s core philosophy that children of all abilities should be empowered to optimize their own experiences through an understanding of the science behind their differences, how this fits into the broad spectrum of what it means to be human, and personalized strategies they can use to self-monitor, self-regulate and self-advocate.

Heather came to this philosophy through over a decade of experience with children across the full spectrum of physical, intellectual and social abilities. Heather has deep expertise in sensory integration disorders, including how carefully-sequenced sensory inputs can be used to re-balance neurochemical imbalances affecting learning and emotional regulation. She connects deeply and authentically with children from across the full spectrum of intellectual and physical abilities, finding and fostering the spark that motivates and empowers them each to live their best lives, while deftly identifying practical steps their teachers and caregivers can take to help take challenges out of the way while work proceeds to address them. She is often found commando-crawling through a kid-sized obstacle course of her client’s creation, hoisting a sensory-seeking child through flips in the pool or quietly lying on the floor playing a visually-challenging board game. In short, she meets each child where they are and is a consummate cheerleader for their abilities.

Heather received her Bachelor of Science, Health Sciences, and her Master of Science in Occupational Therapy from the University of New England. She has extensive training in sensory integration, visual perceptual development, oral motor/feeding, fine motor/handwriting and motor development. Heather has provided occupational therapy in numerous settings including Birth to Three / Early Intervention, elementary and middle school, and out-patient pediatric services. Currently, she contracts with Angelfish Therapy (Aquatic Therapy) and has a private practice providing pediatric therapy in homes, at schools and other natural environments.

Together with physical therapist Elizabeth Upton Tynan, Heather is also the co-founder of Upwards Pediatric Therapy. Upwards Pediatric Therapy provides Physical and Occupational Therapy services to children of all ages, empowering them to achieve their maximum potential and making a positive difference in their lives, their families and the community at large. Based in Fairfield and Wilton, Connecticut, they provide services for children (infants to 18 years of age) who have physical, neurological and developmental challenges that affect core strength, coordination, learning, motor planning, movement and sensory planning. 

Aison-Margo.jpg

Alison

Alison Margo, B.S. (Elementary Education), M.A. (Teaching), Elementary-level Teacher 

Alison is a highly-experienced, certified elementary school teacher who is committed to helping her students become their best selves…to grow intellectually, socially and emotionally. She believes that the key to helping students unlock their potential begins with the relationship between teacher and student.  Establishing a strong connection with her students, one in which they feel safe, supported and accepted is imperative and critical for success.

Alison understands that each child is unique and has the potential to grow and thrive. She believes in educating “the whole child” through a personalized learning approach enabling her students to access a unique learning experience based upon their individual needs preparing them to be life-long learners. She is also experienced working with children who have experienced prior school-based trauma, and understands that the emotional healing process may at times be the most valuable way to help move a child’s education forward.

Alison has a Master of Arts in Teaching (Elementary Education) and has been a certified (013) educator in Connecticut for seventeen years. She began her career in the small town of Andover, CT as a 1st grade teacher. A move back to her hometown of Fairfield led her to become a teacher in Weston, CT where she taught grades 4 and 5 for fifteen years. Alison has served on various school improvement teams, including Curriculum Development, Professional Development, and Character Education. She served as a grade level team leader as well as a TEAM mentor and cooperating teacher. 

Alison lives with her husband and two cats and is an accomplished photographer.

Regina Ingulli.png

Regina

Regina G. Ingulli, MS, CCC-SLP, Reading Specialist and Speech and Language Pathology

Regina is a licensed Speech and Language Pathologist since 1994 with extensive experience in private practice as well as in public and private educational systems. Regina’s approach is to collaborate with not only the child, but with the family to ensure all therapies and strategies are individually designed. This is essential. Without properly understanding all aspects of the student, it is impossible to formulate a successful education plan. In addition to her speech and language background she has extensive reading certifications and trainings.

Speech Fluency Training: Prompts for Restructuring Oral Muscular Phonetic Targets (PROMPT), Computer-Aided Fluency Establishment Training (CAFET), Mayo Clinic-Apraxia and Literacy.

Language Fluency Training: Scientific Learning Corp., Fast ForWord Training & Certification, Nanci Bell’s Visualizing and Verbalizing Training, Cognitive Connections-360 Thinking Executive Functioning Advanced Training, Certified for It Takes Two to Talk (ITTT), The Hanen Program.

Reading Fluency Training: Wilson Reading System: Level 1 Certified, Wilson Academy: The Advanced Word Study, BOCES Wilson Just Words, Wilson Academy: Fundations Program Level 3, Institute for Multi-Sensory Education: Orton Gillingham Multi-Sensory Training, Lindamood-Bell, Seeing Stars, Lindamood Auditory Discrimination in Depth Training (LiPS), Center for Reading & Language Research, Rave-O, Renaissance Learning, Designing Interventions and Monitoring Progress with STAR Assessments.  

Kelsy Moules.jpeg

Kelsy

Kelsy Moules, MT-BC, Music Therapist and Music Instructor

Kelsy is a board certified music therapist with an Undergraduate degree in Music Therapy from Anna Maria College and a Masters in Health Administration from Saint Joseph’s University. Kelsy works with clients of all ages and in a variety of settings throughout Connecticut. These range from early childhood group therapy sessions promoting social skills to working with Alzheimer’s and Dementia in nursing homes.

Stylistically, Kelsy provides an energetic, supportive and collaborative environment that yields opportunities for self expression and growth. 

About Connecticut Music Therapy Services

Connecticut Music Therapy was established in 2005 by music therapist Jennifer Sokira and today trains music therapists around the nation as an approved continuing education provider. CMTS’s music therapy philosophy is that they believe in helping people and the therapeutic modality we employ is music. We use the power of music and all of its inherent sounds, structures, emotions, and possibilities to connect with our clients, reveal possibilities and make their lives better. We believe that personal growth takes place through positive relationships built on trust and hope. 

Elizabeth%2BUpton%2BTynan.jpg

Liz

Elizabeth Upton Tynan, MSPT, Co-Founder, Upwards Pediatric Therapy  

Liz is a certified physical therapist, Children’s Yoga Facilitator and the co-founder of Upwards Pediatric Therapy. She received her Bachelor of Science in Health Sciences and her Master of Science in Physical Therapy from Boston University. She has extensive training in sensory integration, manual therapy techniques and in supporting children with chronic medical conditions.

Liz worked as a staff physical therapist in the hospital setting, in both acute care and acute rehabilitation settings. Liz also served as a Pediatric Physical Therapy Supervisor, responsible for school-based physical therapy staff in the public schools, program development and continuing program facilitation. Currently, she contracts with Angelfish Therapy (Aquatic Therapy) and has a private practice providing therapy in homes, at schools and other natural environments.

About Upwards Pediatric Therapy

Upwards Pediatric Therapy provides Physical and Occupational Therapy services to children of all ages, empowering them to achieve their maximum potential and making a positive difference in their lives, their families and the community at large.We are highly enthusiastic, professional, compassionate therapists who love to play and help children blossom!  Based in Fairfield County, Connecticut, at Upwards Pediatric Therapy, we provide services for children (infants to 18 years of age) who have physical, neurological and developmental challenges that affect core strength, coordination, learning, motor planning, movement and sensory planning. 

Cath Fraise.jpg

Cath

Catherine Fraise, M.Ed. Founder and Executive Director, Workspace Education.  

Catherine Fraise is the visionary behind Workspace Education. A former Montessori teacher, Cath has designed Workspace to give children access to all the resources they need to manifest their own ideas. She believes that children heal, grow and achieve best when education is integrated into and enriched by family support. Cath helps members create customized educational programs for their children.

To the children at Workspace, it’s clear that Cath has never met a dream she doesn’t believe in. She is usually found walking the halls at Workspace encouraging children to take whatever spark is in their imaginations to the next level, whether it’s with a walk down the hall to use the 3D printers or by stepping into the digital recording studio to record that song she hears them singing.

About Workspace

Workspace Education seeks to be a beacon for those families who believe their children are underserved in the traditional school system and challenges them to use the wealth of available resources to create engaging, meaningful educational experiences that prepare learners for life, future academics, and the workforce with assistance from educational experts, the community and surrounding businesses.

Jenai%2BFitzpatrick.jpg

Jenai

Jenai Fitzpatrick, MS Ed., Counselor

Jenai is a school psychologist and consummate advocate for children. She is also the Dream Director of Workspace Education, responsible for helping learners to discover and chart a path to realize their own dreams and potential. She has a passion for cultivating trust, empowerment and sense of belonging at Workspace.

Jenai knows the importance of nurturing the whole child while maintaining a safe environment in which families can thrive. As school psychologist at the Hallen School in New Rochelle, NY, Jenai advocated for the appropriate level of instruction for children and engaged in interventions designed to support learner growth and achievement of goals. She also provided individual and group counseling to help accommodate and best fit the needs of students on the autistic spectrum from ages 5 to 21.

When Jenai is not working, she can be found outdoors with her husband and son going on long walks or working in their organic garden!  

profile pic RMarcus 2015.jpg

Robin

Robin Marcus, MS (Mathematics), Director

Robin Marcus is an expert in math and STEM education, competency-based education, and school transformation; an experienced educator, instructional coach, curriculum writer, and facilitator of professional learning; an accomplished program designer from vision through implementation, evaluation, and refinement; and a respected change agent known for hard work, competence, passion, listening, and reflective thinking.

Robin comes to her role as Advisor on Mathematics and STEM curriculum more than two decades of experience improving teaching and learning, particularly for students traditionally under-served in our educational system, to consulting work with the Teaching Institute for Excellence in STEM (TIES), the Southern Regional Education Board (SREB), and other educational organizations. Current work focuses on building the capacity of school districts to implement, scale, and sustain powerful teaching and learning practices grounded in formative assessment to achieve college and career readiness math standards.

At NC New Schools, Robin led the turnaround of ten chronically underachieving high schools through a focus on inquiry-based teaching and learning and formative assessment. She went on to oversee the design, facilitation and continuous improvement of the organization’s professional learning offerings for a network of 150+ schools and, later, to launch and lead a new Research & Development department, growing the organization’s capacity to both improve its current approaches, as well as innovate to design future approaches.

Prior to joining NC New Schools, Robin served as an instructional coach and teacher in an innovative high school in Baltimore, where she increased the school’s pass rate on the state math test for AYP from 11% to more than 80% in just one year through a focus on inquiry-based teaching and learning and formative assessment. Robin has provided thousands of hours of professional development for district, school and classroom leaders in national, regional and local workshops and served on the development team of Core-Plus Mathematics, an innovative high school math curriculum.

ABD, Robin completed coursework for a PhD in curriculum and instruction at the University of Maryland. She holds a bachelor’s degree in mathematics from Drake University and a master’s degree in mathematics from Michigan State University. She and her husband have four children spanning preschool to college and live in Durham, NC.

Chris Wermuth.jpeg

Chris

Chris Wermuth, MAT, CAS (Administration), Advisor

Chris brings to Cajal Academy’s Advisory Board his rich experience as a certified teacher and administrator with nearly 20 years of experience in public schools as a classroom teacher and principal.  Having worked in high-performing districts, he is experienced in all aspects of teaching, learning, evaluation, and special education.  

In all his spheres, Chris brings a collaborative approach that involves all key stakeholders and helps teams to focus on the social, emotional, and academic well-being of all students using research-based pedagogies linked with compassion.  

Through his work with Tri-State Consortium and as a member of ASCD, Chris has consulted with high-performing districts throughout the tri-state area. He has received extensive training in Restorative Practices from IIRP and has been instrumental in bringing this work to his current district, where he is currently the principal of Long Meadow Elementary School.