Alexis Cauthen lives in Vilonia, Arkansas, with her husband, Shane, and two boys, Drake and Casen. Alexis attended the University of Central Arkansas where she earned a Bachelor of Science in Education as an English major. She was a public school educator with the Cabot School District for seven years before she left the classroom to pursue a calling to open a childcare facility in Vilonia. 
She opened Central Christian Academy of Vilonia in January of 2015 after rebuilding her own home that was destroyed in the EF4 tornado the previous year. Her childcare center serves approximately 135 families each year in the Vilonia community. Along with being a preschool owner and director, she is also a worship leader, avid reader, program director and pioneer of a new microschool. Her passion, her faith and her background in education all fuel her to advocate for the educational rights of children and families.  

In 2014, the small town of Vilonia was devastated by an EF4 tornado. Many homes were completely decimated, and some families were forced to examine the foundation that was left after the debris and rubble were cleared to determine if they could rebuild on the same foundation or if they would need to start over somewhere new.

The COVID-19 pandemic has left many families faced with a similar choice. The foundations of our society are laying bare for the world, and families are starting to assess these foundations from a new perspective. Many are now seeing cracks they couldn’t see before the storm.

The foundation that is receiving the closest examination is that of our educational system. After months of homeschooling, many parents came out of isolation with a greater admiration for educators. Many also came out with a greater understanding of their child’s diverse needs and individual learning styles, and as a result, have started considering new education options that would better suit these needs.

In the tiny town of Vilonia, one such option is available. The highly ranked Vilonia School District is the heart of the town and is the main industry in that area. Still, while most agree that Vilonia is rich with quality public school educators and administrators, many feel that another option is best for their children. This sentiment had been shared so often, especially since the pandemic began, that another option was created. A small “microschool” opened in the heart of Vilonia. This new educational concept began as a way to blend the rigor, social engagement, and structure of a public-school setting with the freedom, involvement and flexibility of the homeschool setting.

In these new educational environments, children, teachers and parents are discovering new possibilities for how they do school and do life. Parents, even those with full-time careers, can have more say-so in their children’s education. Parents also have the flexibility to travel with their children any time of year and spend as much time with their children as they are able without fear of attendance non-compliance.

Some families signed up for the microschool because it accommodates medical conditions better than traditional options. For example, Carmen Martin said she enrolled her child at the new microschool “because he is diabetic. He has to be very closely monitored, and I was getting calls multiple times a week from the school because he was not allowed to stay if his blood sugar went above or below a certain level, and they were not allowed to do what was required to change his site or adjust his insulin. I was having to leave work sometimes multiple times a week, and he was missing so much instructional time.”

In addition, many microschools and private schools place as much or more emphasis on physical, mental, social, emotional and spiritual health and development. Even the name of this microschool in Vilonia reflects this focus. Arukah is Hebrew for “wholeness.” The focus and vision of this program is the growth, health and development of the whole child.

“With our oldest going into kindergarten, my husband and I debated on public school. We both knew that our son would thrive socially, emotionally and even intellectually anywhere he was a student, but we also wanted him to grow spiritually and morally as well,” Krystal Grimes said. “Our choice to enroll him in a private option has provided a continuity of care and enforcement of values. When my son told his teachers of an idea he had to ensure the homeless had food, they helped his idea become a reality by hosting a food drive. This taught him so many life lessons, especially how he can make a difference in the world.”

Ultimately though, the most important thing to remember is that a variety of options to meet the varied needs of children is always a good thing. Doing what is best for children should always take precedence over what is best for the system.

Ashley Echols, another parent who enrolled her child in a private educational option, said this, “Every child is different and has different educational needs. An environment, learning style and curriculum that is good for one child isn’t necessarily the best for another child.”