Unique is the word for All Children's Academy

Story and photos
by Renee Hunter

All Children’s Academy in Little Rock is the first school of its kind in Arkansas. That’s because its founder and CEO, Cindy Young, is one of a kind, as is her co-founder, Suzanne Fullerton.

Cindy and Suzanne, who met while working at another private school, first teamed up in December 2010 to provide Christian-based outpatient therapy for children from birth to age 16, with specific learning disabilities.

Cindy is a speech therapist who says she is hyperactive and was not a good student. “I have horrible academic issues myself,” she said. “I’m a therapist by heart — a teacher by heart.”

Suzanne is a pediatric occupational therapist with a specialty in sensory integration. She is one of a handful in Arkansas. “I’m my own breed,” she said with a smile.

Suzanne chose occupational therapy because it enabled her to use her many interests — sports, art, drama, piano — but she has always taught.

In addition, both come from parents who were teachers.

At the time they teamed up, both were looking for a new direction. “I was looking for a career shift,” said Suzanne. “God moved me on.”

“I believe in God-given gifts,” said Cindy. “It’s about what you do each and every day.”

They are a good fit.

All Children’s Academy not only provides help for children, but also for parents by providing them with tools to blend what is learned in therapy into their children’s everyday life. “Parents don’t want their children labeled,” Cindy said. “They want to help them.”

The following March, Cindy followed God’s nudge to open a Christian school that offers multisensory education, taking Suzanne with her.

Cindy’s husband, Steven, a real-estate agent, gave up a year to help set up the non-profit.

The school is specifically for children with specific learning disabilities such as dyslexia, difficulty using spoken or written language or sensory processing disorder (an overreaction to sensory stimuli). The school curricula, created in-house, combines multisensory education and therapy to provide a holistic approach to learning that produces students who can succeed at home, at school and in the community.

“We’ve developed something that applies to everybody,” said Cindy. “We don’t want to brainwash kids; we talk to them.”

Cindy drew from many sources in her educational ideas, beginning with Maria Montessori. “I stand on her shoulders,” she said. Other methods used include the DuBard Association Method, a phonetic, multisensory strategy designed for children with language deficiencies.

The school’s approach is very hands-on. For example, students use “language boards” with separate color-coded shapes representing parts of speech that can be physically applied to heavy cardboard. Hyperactive children learn to calm themselves using a method Cindy calls “Act Right” that consists of breathing God in deeply and breathing “self” out while squeezing their hands together.

The school currently serves students in pre-school through fifth grade and has a 1-to-6 teacher-student ratio, allowing for individualized instruction. It is multilevel in that whatever the project — a campout, for example — the 24 students all work on it at their learning levels.

The younger ones may do a language board around the menu, while the older ones may journal about supplies or learn to put up a tent or paddle a canoe. The students are also regularly taken into the community.

“Because we want their skills to be generalized,” explained Cindy. “We compare and contrast; we read it, write it, see it, touch it, smell it, taste it.”

The school is in its second year of a five-year process required to receive accreditation by Arkansas Nonpublic School Accrediting Association. And it has nearly outgrown its location on Cantrell Road.

“We’re open to anything that God wants us to do,” Cindy said. “We want to do more than educate kids; we want to train parents and other professionals. I don’t want to waste time, energy or money. I just want to help.”

In preparation of future growth, Suzanne is working toward a master’s in education with a multisensory emphasis.

And, of course, there are fundraisers.

“The worst part about a non-profit [is] there’s a business side of it that you have to be smart about,” Cindy said.  

The ACA Board, consisting of four people — Steven Young, Billy Roehrehnbeck, Art Hymel and Dr. Margo Turner — is there to help.