Category Archives: My Miriam Story





Our son Zander is a charming young man, complete with a bright smile that lights up a room. Now a sophomore at Miriam Academy, he is an eager learner and loves to share his knowledge with all around him. He is a true little professor, often a classic trait of his Aspergers.

Since Zander was eight years old, he has dealt with the challenges of a high IQ, coupled with executive function disorder that lends itself to the inability to organize things or thoughts. Zander had always attended public school, but as he got older he had a harder time fitting in with his peers despite desperately wanting to be accepted.

By middle school he had little social life and spent lunch in the library playing video games. His difficulty working in groups frustrated those assigned to work with him. His frustration or disappointment was not age-appropriate, further setting him apart from his peers.

After Zander’s IEP (individualized education plan) meeting for public high school, we left feeling extremely worried about his ability to adapt. The next day I bumped into an acquaintance who happened to be a mother with a student at Miriam School. She listened to our worries and mentioned that Miriam was beginning its own high school. We attended the first meeting about the Academy and left feeling very hopeful.

When Zander visited Miriam Academy for the first time, his reaction was without a doubt positive. We watched him being accepted by both peers and teachers. We knew this was the answer for Zander’s next four academic years.

This inaugural year at Miriam has been positive for our whole family. No more fighting to complete homework or lengthy assignments. For the first time in his life, homework requires little to no parental guidance! His amazing teachers continue to engage and help him overcome his challenges. Zander has become an integral part of student life, which extends to his social life at school and beyond.

A perfect example of how the students and staff came together is the creation of the school baseball team. In the past, Zander was cut from three baseball teams and we never expected him to be a part of an organized sport again. But the magic of Miriam made it possible for him to be on a team and he has loved every minute!

All of Zander’s gifts and deficits have been embraced during his first year at Miriam. The staff sees the whole package he has to offer and are enthusiastic about his future. They see Zander’s potential and have set him on the path that makes attending a four-year college an option. As parents, our outlook changed from just getting Zander by to a belief in a bright and successful future. We will forever be thankful that a place like Miriam Academy exists.

-Submitted by Kerri Alper

From the minute we walked in the door, we knew everyone at Miriam cared about our son and would do everything they could to help him. It has been a 10-year journey to help Sean and we are proud to say he is doing great with a lot of help and support from the great people at Miriam.

We first found Miriam Learning Center when Sean was just three years old. Sean’s early childhood advocate advised us to look into Miriam as a resource to help address his developmental delays. Now almost 10 years later, Sean continues to benefit from services he gets from the Learning Center. As one of their first clients, I have seen so much growth and development in both Sean and the Miriam Learning Center–they have come a long way!

Sean was diagnosed at two years old because he was not talking at his age level and behind in gross and fine motor development. At three years old, Sean began at Miriam with summer camp and occupational therapy. Over the years, he has taken advantage of occupational therapy services, social group classes and camps that were sports oriented, as well as individualized tutoring. The Learning Center also did academic assessment testing to help us find an appropriate school for him. Sean continues to receive math tutoring assistance from his wonderful Miriam tutor Cyndi Carter. All this has helped to shape our son into a happy, confident boy!

Today Sean is entering sixth grade at Kirk Day School and doing great. I credit Miriam and
the staff with giving him the social skills he needed to make friends and advocate for himself,
along with academic support. This year he gave a speech at his school for Abilities Day, and spoke
in front of the school with confidence. This was a big achievement that would not have been possible without the support from Miriam. We are very fortunate that Miriam has been here for Sean and our family all these years.

I would tell other parents who have a child who is struggling in school and needs extra help to reach out to Miriam. Like Sean they can stay in their current school, but still take advantage of all Miriam’s resources to reach their maximum potential. Without a doubt, Miriam has helped Sean on his journey to be the best he can be!

-Submitted by Therese Myers

When I was in high school, I wanted to be an editor. I’d never even considered teaching until one day my own art teacher observed me explaining a project to another student who’d been absent and missed the instructions. He paused, looked right at me and said, “You would make a great teacher.”

When I left St. Louis to attend college in Chicago, I took his advice and started my journey as an educator.  Out of college, my first job was teaching Language Arts in a Chicago Public School.  It was challenging work. I especially enjoyed working with and watching my co-teacher who was in charge of making modifications for our students with IEPs and unique learning needs. Later, I found myself at another school teaching a class with no special education support in which 60% of the students had learning disabilities. I was determined to give every student the opportunity to learn in my classroom. For each lesson, I made three differentiated assessments and modified every piece of reading, incorporating as much hands-on learning as I could. Turns out, I enjoyed every minute of it. After that year concluded, I decided to return to school and earn certification to teach Special Education.

After teaching in Chicago for ten years, I decided to return to St. Louis – my home town. I found a job as a resource teacher at a charter school downtown where I worked with inspiring, dedicated teachers who made the most out of incredibly limited resources. We shared a wonderful Occupational Therapist among the three different campuses. Students at our school were lucky to get 30 minutes of OT per week. These OT services, along with speech/language services and tutoring, were all provided by staff from a place I’d never heard of called Miriam Learning Center. One day I was talking to an MLC tutor, Terry Beck, and she was telling me all about Miriam School and the incredible OT room, dedicated teachers, and small class sizes. I was so intrigued by the description of such a place that I sent in an application even though I wasn’t planning on looking for a new job. After a serendipitous mix up involving my Chicago area code and the family member of a Miriam student, I was delighted to be granted an interview.

During my interview in the library, a summer camp student glided by on a scooter, waving and smiling at us, followed by a tiny boy bouncing on a hippity hop ball. It was such a fun, happy little moment, and no one else in the room seemed fazed a bit. I immediately thought that if seeing kids on hippity hops and scooters smile and wave as they pass your window is such a common occurrence here that no one feels they need to mention it, this must be one of the most safe, welcoming, and fun environments for any child – let alone a child with a learning disability, anxiety, or autism. I knew right then that Miriam School was the place for me.

I have just started my third year teaching at Miriam and have transitioned to teaching on our middle school team, but I still hold fast to that belief. That tutor was right – the Miriam School staff is one of the most dedicated and kindest I have ever worked with. I enjoy going to work every day and have made lifelong friends.  And I could fill pages and pages with accolades about how much I love our amazing students.  This year, like every year, I found myself eager to return to school, having missed the students and the delightful chaos and community of Miriam. This is really an amazing place, and I feel so lucky to be part of it.

-Submitted by Leslie Lockett, Miriam middle school teacher

Ellie Mandel, 20+ year volunteer, Miriam Switching Post

As a volunteer for more than 20 years at the Miriam Switching Post, I have loved seeing the evolution and growth of both the store and Miriam’s mission to help children.  What keeps me volunteering every Tuesday is both my love of antiques and people.  It has been very rewarding!

I first began as a volunteer here in 1993 after retiring from the Defense Mapping Agency where I worked for many years.  I was also the first women to serve as a board member for their credit union for 14 years.  I knew the manager at the store in Clayton on Forsythe Blvd. who originally asked me to volunteer.  My adventure with Miriam began some 24 years ago and I have no plans to retire anytime soon.

My duties over the years have included everything from pricing and research, to estate sales and helping customers.  In the days before the Internet, we did all of our research from books and we had our own library to help us.

I am always amazed at the incredible donations we get and what people buy.  Once we had a huge wing back chair that I didn’t think would sell, but one day a very large man walked in and bought it on the spot!  You just never know what is going to sell and that’s what makes it so much fun.

I have been at three locations of the Switching Post including the store in Clayton, the Big Bend store in Maplewood, and now our store in Brentwood.  This location gives us the space we need and customers can easily find our merchandise.

I just love the mission of Miriam and how we help children at both the Miriam School and the new Miriam Academy high school.  The students really get the attention they need at Miriam.

Over the years, I have collected some wonderful items and my home is full of great buys from the Switching Post.  One of my favorite things to collect is chairs.  I have at least eight chairs from the store including my kitchen table chairs which perfectly match my table.  I also collect elephants with the trunks up (for good luck) and costume jewelry.  I am wearing (in the photo) one of my favorite necklaces that I bought at the Switching Post some 20 years ago.

At 86-years-young, volunteering at the Switching Post keeps me moving, along with yard work and planting flowers, going to the theater, and my family and friends.  I have made some wonderful long-term friendships through the Switching Post, and I love the volunteers and customers too.  It’s truly a special place!

-Ellie Mandel, Miriam Switching Post Volunteer


As a senior at Bishop Du Bourg High School, I recently had the opportunity to come back to Miriam School for my senior service hours.  I was a student at Miriam from first through eighth grade, so it was great to return to see many of the same teachers and traditions still in place.  

For my senior project, I got to work with students in a variety of ways including: helping students stay on task, math, reading, classroom projects and playing outside.  I enjoyed working with the students because it reminded me of when I was a student at Miriam and it also gave me a chance to give back to such a special place that is a big part of my life.

It was very meaningful for me to be back at Miriam for many reasons.  The school played an important role not only in my educational experience, but also as the place where I grew up.  It struck me that very little has changed and I take comfort in the fact that almost everything that was part of my childhood and early teen years has remained a constant to this day.

Some of my favorite memories of being a student at Miriam include class projects, going to extended day, eating pizza on Fridays, and enjoying “Fun Friday” where, at the end of the school week, students could participate in various free-time activities.

I also liked meeting all kinds of new people at Miriam where I made a number of friends.  Miriam gave me the social skills I needed to learn to get along with people of different backgrounds, personalities, attitudes, and challenges/struggles.  This understanding about myself has served me well in high school.

Miriam teachers taught me valuable life lessons in a way that worked with my disabilities and learning challenges that no other educational institution could have ever done.  Teachers taught me about appropriate social skills, helped me out when I was struggling with any subject, and treated me with kindness and respect.  I had every resource at hand to help me succeed, graduate from high school and go on to pursue my dream of being a civil engineer.

-John Deasy, Miriam School alumnus and senior service volunteer








As soon as I walked through the doors at Miriam School, I knew I had found the right place for my RobertJonessons Logan and Isaac.  Prior to finding Miriam, the daily lives of my wife and I were filled with a multitude of concerns for our sons.  No matter which school they attended, we were plagued by one problem after another.  After much research and hope for a solution, I discovered the answers to my prayers: Miriam School.

Once our sons started at Miriam School, they were once again happy to go to school.  My wife and I stopped worrying about our children’s safety, learning challenges, and social difficulties.  It seemed as if a day did not go by where the boys were accomplishing new things.

During their years at Miriam, the School gave Logan and Isaac the tools needed for them to advocate for themselves and successfully return to a traditional school setting.  The small class size gave each boy the individual attention and nurturing environment they needed.  As a result, their math, reading and social-skills improved dramatically.

Isaac left Miriam after the 5th grade to attend St. Ambrose School and Logan graduated from Miriam School and transitioned smoothly to St. Mary’s High School.  Both boys are doing well today.

My family and I owe a lot to Miriam School and I recently joined the Board of Directors as a way to give back.  I will never forget how all the teachers supported the philosophy of getting my sons to believe in themselves.  They knew that the teachers, staff, and faculty truly cared about them.

Without the expertise and guidance we received at Miriam, I hate to ponder what would have become of our sons.  The school gave us peace of mind, hope, love, and a wonderful foundation for each of them.

-Robert Jones, Miriam Foundation Board Member and Alumni Parent







When I think back about life before Miriam, I see fond memories. However, along with those happy ethanwmemories, I also see not so good ones. Before Miriam, I was a bit of a social outcast. Not only did I not fit in with other kids, I didn’t know how to make friends. Academically I was fine but it felt like something was missing. Due to my learning needs, school was hard and even though those needs were accommodated, it still felt like school was not really working for me.

My parents recognized my learning differences and were constantly trying to help. When they thought nothing would work, they were told about Miriam School. We heard it was a safe haven where children with learning disabilities could learn and thrive. We were eager to find out more.

When I first came to Miriam for summer camp, I was greeted with warm, happy faces and children bouncing through the hallways on hippity hops.  However, it was still a big change for me.  Miriam School is a very different kind of place!

On my first day of sixth grade I began attending Miriam full-time. Due to the open, accepting environment I quickly found my place and made many friends. I encountered a few bumps throughout the year, but overall it was a good experience. Now I am currently 12-years-old and in seventh grade at Miriam. Although most of my friends have gone on to high school, it is still a pleasant experience.

Miriam’s hands-on learning approach has made school very exciting and fun!  Subjects that I found hard and frustrating like math, I now look forward to.  I really liked our projects including the Global Monster Project and the Little Free Library, which taught me valuable skills like leadership, teamwork and much more.

For anyone who doesn’t know about the Miriam School, or may be scared of change, keep in mind that in the long run it will help students like me who learn differently. I have learned that different does not mean bad.

Overall, Miriam has helped me become the best person I can be. I would recommend this school to anyone who feels like their learning needs are not being met.

-Ethan W., Current 7th grade student













I was a senior at Webster Groves High School the first time I walked through the doors of the Miriamschlepp School in 1983. I was there for a class, Community Campus, designed to help high school students explore career opportunities. I will never forget on the day of orientation how the person showing me around was so positive. I felt like I belonged right from the start. I was pretty shy at that point in my life, and I was struggling to find my purpose in the world. I was assigned to two teachers, Heather Howe and Elizabeth Hodge. They both quickly became positive role models for me and encouraged my interest in becoming a special education teacher. I can honestly say that those afternoons at the Miriam School changed the trajectory of my life.

After high school, I attended Missouri State University and received my BS in Special Education. I continued to work at the Miriam School summer camp all through college, and I would always come visit the kids on my breaks. With the encouragement of Heather Howe, I went on to get my M.ED in School Counseling at the University of Southern Mississippi. I taught students with learning disabilities and behavior disorders for several years before taking a position as a school counselor. I worked until the birth of my first child and then became a stay-at-home mom. My three girls are now teenagers; two in college and one in high school.

My passion for helping children with special needs is still a huge part of my life. I have recently written two books: Eden and Her Happy and Henry and His Manners. I call them Emotion Belly Books because the characters all have visible emotions in their bellies. The purpose of my books is to help kids better understand their emotions, as well as the emotions of those around them.

I am so thankful for the direction that the Miriam School pointed me in and I will be forever grateful for the experience I gained during my time with the students and teachers at this special place.

-Tracy Schelpphorst, Former Miriam School volunteer and author
Find out more about Tracy’s books here



While in high school, my sweet younger cousin gave msarabe my first experience with children with developmental disabilities.  I wanted to learn more about my cousin and majored in psychology and started to research autism.  As a freshman, a friend told me about working as an ABA therapist.  I had no idea what this meant, but I knew it would allow me to work with these amazing people and jumped at the chance.

For my first job, I was so blessed to be placed in a classroom with an amazing lead teacher, Ms. Tucker Mueller, who taught me the most about seeing these children as children first.  I worked for Special School District through college, and when I graduated with my BS in Psychology in 2005, a family friend, Dr. Kathie Pontikes, told me that her school was looking for a teacher assistant.

The moment I walked into Miriam, I knew it was a special place.  A whole room devoted to addressing sensory issues.  A whole school devoted to addressing individual child’s needs.  I had never seen anything like it.

It has been inspiring and exciting to come to work at Miriam each day.  I started as an assistant to Ms. Candi and Ms. Nancy, and saw how they differentiated and organized their time and space to allow students to learn in predictable but dynamic environments.   I later moved to the older students, and saw Ms. Cognata. and Dr. Pontikes hold students to high expectations and then made sure they met them.  I got the best student teaching experiences because I observed the best of the best.

In 2008, I was given an opportunity for which I will forever be grateful, when I became a classroom teacher at Miriam School.  I was mentored by Ms. Cognata and was able to put into practice in my own classroom all the amazing things I had learned and observed with the teachers I had worked for.

After my second daughter was born in June of 2010, I decided to leave Room 7 in the capable hands of Mrs. Wand to enjoy some time off with my oldest daughter Micah and my new baby Reagan. Their little sister Corry made an appearance in September of 2011 and I spent several years with my hands quite full raising three little girls!

In fall of 2012, I took a part-time position at my alma mater, St. Louis Christian Academy, and worked as a teacher and high school guidance counselor.  It was a wonderful time and those students will forever hold a piece of my heart, but I knew that my passion was working with students like my cousin, who has now graduated high school and has been accepted to Digi Pen Institute of Technology in Seattle, Washington.

Two years ago, I learned that Dr. Pontikes was retiring after 25+ years of working at Miriam.   I had always intended to come back to this amazing place, and I knew that this was the right time. Now as the classroom teacher in Room 10, I love coming to work each day because it is a new opportunity to help a child see themselves as having unique potential and help them set and  accomplish goals.  I am so honored and blessed to be surrounded by people who share that same passion.

-Sara Barnes, Middle School Special Education Teacher




I tried again, “Jacob?  Can you hear me?”

More silence from the back seat of the minivan.

“Are you getting out now?  Should I leave the van door open or closed so the cold air doesn’t come in?”

Still nothing.  It was a normal day picking my third grade son from school.  As always, he climbed into his haven of seclusion in the backseat and was unresponsive to any and all of my attempts to connect with him.  We were now at home and he was still withdrawn into his shell.  I felt like I should be used to this, but waves of desperation kept crashing over me.  Question after question assailed my mind: Where was my son?  How could I help him?  What was going on in his mind?  What had happened at school?  Do we need to have another meeting with the teacher?  The principal?

Once a quirky, but happy preschooler, Jacob had become increasingly withdrawn since attending his private school with its fast-paced and traditional classroom style.  Report cards detailed how far he had fallen behind in reading and math.  Jacob’s behavior apparently was also declining, and phone calls or emails from his teacher were dreaded and regular.  ADHD medication and moderate (though hard-fought-for) classroom accommodations were proving ineffective in arresting Jacob’s downward, inward spiral.  Jacob increasingly was coming to believe he was stupid.

If you’re reading this, I know there’s a good chance you have been in a similar place.  The child you know and love seems to be slipping further and further away.  The obstacles threaten overwhelmingly and the trajectory seems dim.  Where can you turn?  Where can you get answers?  Who will see the beauty and potential within your child?  Who will invest in them, delight in them, and nurture them?  What if the negative spiral never stops?  Like me you probably have lots of questions, many tears, and few answers.

Enter the Miriam School.  After a fourth grade year of homeschooling, I was finally referred to a psychologist, where testing and evaluation of Jacob uncovered more answers than questions.  Having diagnosed Jacob with predominantly Asperger’s and dyslexia, the psychologist strongly recommended we consider Miriam School as an option for him.

Though I had to physically drag Jacob out of the car on his first day of school at Miriam, from that moment, he began to emerge from his cocoon.  He was motivated to get to school in the mornings and happily talkative getting back into the car in the afternoon.  Occupational therapy helped Jacob get his sensory issues under control.  Teachers provided regular and specific training on social skills.  They taught handwriting, math, and reading in such a way that Jacob blossomed.  In every area – academic, social, and emotional – Jacob stopped spiraling downward and inward.  Instead, he began moving steadily upward and outward.  We encountered bumps, but we overcame them.  After four years at Miriam, Jacob graduated this past May as a different person – equipped to learn and with potential unlocked.  Though I’m sure there will be a time of transition, he is well-prepared to enter high school this fall at Bishop DuBourg.  He aspires to go to college and study math and agriculture science.

I’m also thrilled that my story with Miriam is not yet over.  Our fifth grade daughter Anna (who has a similar learning profile as Jacob) will attend Miriam beginning this August.  Though she has benefited from Miriam Learning Center’s occupational therapy after school for many years, she will now reap the benefits of Miriam’s full-time specialized instruction including integrated OT and speech therapy and embedded social skill training.

Miriam has blessed our son Jacob, our family, and me personally more than I ever thought possible.  The faculty is exceptional, the environment so positive and nurturing, and the facilities excellent.  Miriam has given us space to breathe – and hope for the future.  My Miriam Story is beyond grateful!

-Vicki Tatko, Current and Alumni Miriam School Parent