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