Category Archives: My Miriam Story

When my son Austin was in middle school, I knew he was going to need another option for high school. I started doing some online research and came across a Facebook ad for Miriam Academy and clicked the “Learn More” button. I never would have guessed how much that button would change our lives! We did a school tour and our first thought was Austin should have been in a school like Miriam all along.

It all started at just a few weeks old when Austin had asthma and severe allergies and was later diagnosed with ADHD in kindergarten. He could keep up in the younger grades socially and academically, but as he got to upper elementary and middle school the differences were dramatic. His grades declined because of his learning and social disabilities and he was bullied. He still deals with some of the lasting effects today.

Since enrolling Austin in Miriam Academy’s first freshman class almost two years ago, we have seen huge progress! He started school totally discouraged and afraid to trust the teachers and other students, but realized that Miriam Academy was a safe place for him and he began to like school.

The Academy’s humanities teacher, Mr. Holmes, really helped to pull Austin out of his shell. Mr. Holmes encourages Austin and even when the words have to be tough, Mr. Holmes always treats him with respect.

When I asked Austin the main reason he likes Miriam he said “It gives kids a second chance.” The Academy has completely changed how he feels about school. He likes the teachers, kids, and the safe feeling school gives him.

Austin loves being on the Academy’s baseball team and is doing a summer internship at the JCC this summer as a camp counselor and is excited to get his first paycheck. He wants to be a firefighter/ EMT and is a volunteer Explorer Fire Fighter through the Berkeley Fire Dept. Austin is very close to getting his driver’s license and is looking forward to his junior year at Miriam!

Miriam Academy has given Austin a chance to experience some of the things that he would see at any high school from clubs and internships, to sports and social events. I appreciate that families are so involved in the school too.

As a parent, I now see HOPE! My son is excited about school again and that makes me happy. There are still some bumps in the road, but the bumps are easier with the Miriam community of teachers, staff and families behind us.

Submitted by Tricia Robb

 

“My stomach hurts.” “I don’t feel good.” “I don’t want to go to school.” These phrases became all too common from our son five years ago when he was in third grade. It was becoming very evident that his school at the time was not meeting his needs. Academic struggles, limited resources to help struggling kids, teachers with limited background in helping kids with learning difficulties – all led to our son, Santos, just not wanting to be there.

Santos had been diagnosed with ADHD at age five, but with these experiences in third grade we decided to do further testing. In the summer after third grade, he was diagnosed with numerous learning disabilities. We knew we had to do something different for Santos. Our pediatrician had mentioned Miriam School, as her daughter had attended there.

After numerous visits to the school we concluded that this could be the place for him. There was just one thing…we lived in Ste. Genevieve, Missouri, at the time. This was 65 miles from Miriam, over an hour drive, one way. Were we crazy to consider this? Is this nuts? Would we really drive him to school every day to St. Louis, over two hours in the car every day? My initial answers to these questions were yes, yes, and no. The answer to the third question, well…

Our family vacation landed us in Durango, Colorado, that summer. It was a Thursday morning. School was starting in less than a week. Where would Santos go for 4th grade? From the hotel parking lot I made the call to tell the school that we wanted to enroll Santos for the year. The following Monday, we were at Miriam for “Meet the Teacher.” Our adventure was beginning!

For the next two years, my wife Diann drove Santos from Ste. Genevieve to Miriam every day for school. Our challenges did not immediately cease. Santos resisted at first. We still had stomach aches. There were numerous bathroom stops, numerous times a day, at numerous quick shops along the way. (Diann became an expert on all the amenities at every gas station between Ste. Genevieve and St. Louis.) Santos spent a lot of time in the office of Mary Cognata, Associate Head of School. Her loving, caring, yet firm way of dealing with Santos was immeasurable and invaluable.

Slowly but surely, Santos adapted. He became more and more comfortable with the school and staff. Eventually, he looked forward to going to school. With the help of Ms. C and all the teachers, his anxiety about school slowly and steadily subsided. He made friends and looked forward to social interaction with his classmates. Miriam became his school, his turf. What more could we as parents ask for? The environment at Miriam allowed him to relax and be in a state of mind that allowed him to learn. After his first two years at Miriam, we relocated to the St. Louis area.

I think I knew when I made the call from Colorado that Miriam would be a wonderful place for Santos. What I didn’t know then, that I know now, is how wonderful Miriam would be for Diann and me. We have gotten so much support and guidance from the teachers and staff, just as Santos has. It was such a relief to us to know that Santos’ educational, emotional, and social needs were being met. It was with great joy that we saw him begin to flourish and love to go to school. Miriam has become our school too, our turf. We feel part of the Miriam community.

Santos recently graduated from Miriam and is getting ready to move on to high school. At his 8th grade graduation, Santos received the President’s Award for Academic Excellence. Diann and I were so pleased, proud, and amazed! When we asked Santos what message he wanted us to put in the Miriam yearbook, he said “Stay Determined.” Diann and I looked at each other, somewhat taken back. What more could we have asked for–a lesson learned to last a lifetime.

-Submitted by Tom Loida

 

 

 

 

Enrolling my great nephew, Damiano, at Miriam School was the best decision we could have ever made. Today he is an outstanding 19-year-old young adult who loves golf, robotics and volunteering and will soon graduate from high school. We owe a huge part of his success to the wonderful experience he had at Miriam School. He attended Miriam during his junior high years in 6-8th grades, which is often the hardest time for kids who are different. The support and community we found at Miriam simply cannot be found anywhere else!

Since he was young, Damiano struggled with ADHD, anxiety and learning challenges. He attended public school in elementary years and did well with an IEP, but when it was time for middle school, we had to find the right learning environment.

Being in healthcare for many years, I had heard so many good things about Miriam School.  I work with psychiatrists and we understand that a learning disability is no different than any other illness. Miriam helps students feel accepted without being made to feel different. It was the perfect fit for my great nephew.

Everything worked for Damiano at Miriam School! His friends loved him for who he was and are still his best friends today. Though there were some things that were different about him, the teachers and staff at Miriam knew just how to work with him.  They know how to make students feel happy, secure and smart. Plus, the kids are taught so much more than academics. Damiano’s social skills and self-confidence grew stronger every day he was there.

Now at St. Mary’s High School, Damiano was chosen as senior of the month due to his constant volunteer work with the homeless and for giving back.  Next year, he plans to go to a local community college and we know that with the tools Miriam gave he him he will be successful. Damiano believes in himself, works hard and doesn’t give up. Miriam also taught him about expectations and helped him learn how to be a friend to others. These lessons will last him a lifetime.

Miriam made the difference for Damiano and for our entire family. I want the community and other parents to know that for any student who learns differently, they can be the brightest shining star and Miriam School is the place where it can happen.

Submitted by Mary Nardoni

 

 

 

 

As a toddler and a preschooler, Ryder was full of love, adventure, curiosity, and a sense of humor beyond his years. He was also extraordinarily strong-willed and had emotional outbursts that would ignite in the face of common parenting strategies. We spent the first five years of Ryder’s life trying to decipher what reality we were facing. On one hand, Ryder did great in full-time preschool for two years. His teachers and pediatrician advised that he was healthy and ready for kindergarten. On the other hand, Ryder’s anxiety was increasing and he started throwing temper tantrums as kindergarten neared. I relayed concerns to the school, but I didn’t have a medical or school history to reference, so his teacher quickly reassured me that everything would be fine. I stifled my fears and hoped Ryder would thrive.

After a difficult first few days of kindergarten, things improved with the help of motor breaks throughout Ryder’s day. The rest of the first semester went beautifully. But then his beloved grandfather and aunt died within two weeks of each other during winter break. Ryder fell apart overnight and the sparkle in his eyes dimmed. In a haze of grief, Ryder started soaking through three shirts a day from a new habit of chewing on his clothes. He didn’t want to leave the house. He refused to do things he had previously loved. I sent a long email to his teacher, expressing my fears and observations, and I was quickly reassured again.

But Ryder’s downward spiral intensified. His sensory and attention needs escalated. He started bringing home one, sometimes two, Behavior Reports, a pink carbon copy of a written description of his failings at school that were quickly piling up in his permanent record. He would crumple the reports and beg me not to read them. We also started receiving calls during the school day when Ryder would be in ‘distress’. Upon picking him up, the air of frustration and disappointment was palpable, and we knew that Ryder could sense it. We were watching a vicious cycle of behavior incidents, shame, and vanishing self-confidence rapidly unfold. We resolved to find a school that would meet Ryder’s needs.

That January, we embarked on a journey to find answers and solutions. We toured nine schools in St. Louis. When I called Miriam, I talked at length about Ryder’s struggles and potential. The kindness, reassurance, and absence of judgement I felt as I shared my son’s struggles filled me with so much hope.

During our tour of Miriam, the students were friendly, smiling, and sociable. The class sizes were small, and there were endless opportunities to release extra energy to enhance focus and classroom readiness. There was the sensory gym with a ball pit and pedal ride-on cars, the beautiful outdoor playground and garden, kids jumping rope and hopping on bouncy balls through the halls, and the expansive gymnasium. We knew we had found Ryder’s school.

Ryder started school at Miriam in first grade, and he is now in second grade. Since day one at Miriam our family has been showered with so much love. Ryder quickly made close friends, and he is greeted with excitement from his peers and staff every time he walks through the door. His confidence is fostered by the way his strengths and weaknesses are deeply understood and nurtured. Ryder not only receives the breaks he needs, but he is learning to identify and communicate when he needs one of those breaks. He also receives occupational, language and social skills therapies during the school day so that our evenings and weekends are not filled with appointments.

Our journey of learning what Ryder needs continues, but the school is always there to listen and support us with extensive experience and competence. Ryder loves everyone he works with at Miriam School. Before winter break and at the end of the school year, Ryder has an exhaustive list of everyone whom he wishes to thank, extending well beyond his teachers.

We are so thankful for Miriam, a school that provides Ryder with the unconditional love and support he needs to thrive at school. Miriam has helped Ryder’s smile and love of life to return.

-Submitted by Whitey Lane

 

 

 

 

I always knew I wanted to be a teacher.  Starting in the fourth grade, I began staying after school to help teachers do odd jobs in their classrooms.  Little did I know that this would help shape my future career.

In college, I quickly discovered that as much as I enjoyed the education classes, I wanted more of a connection with students. I was drawn to Special Education and have been passionate about serving exceptional students ever since.

My path lead me to developing programs for students that did not “fit” the traditional school model. The first stop on my journey was at an elementary school where I spent five years developing and implementing a thriving resource program that was often used as a model for other parochial schools.

I left that school after the birth of my first child and spent the next 10 years raising my children and hanging out at their school every chance I could get! I served as the president of the Parent Teacher Organization, and served on the Board of Education and the Marketing Committee. All these experiences kept me connected and involved in developing quality programs for students.

When I chose to re-enter the workforce, I went back as a middle school language arts teacher at another parochial school where I spent two years preparing students for high school, though not all of them were quite ready. Those students needed more interventions at the primary and intermediate levels, and I took on the challenge by creating a resource program that provided pullout and class within a class services.  I later developed an enrichment program to meet the needs of the gifted learners.

After years of developing programs for exceptional and twice exceptional students in private schools, I found my forever home at Miriam Academy! When I heard the news early in the spring of 2016 that Miriam was going to open a new high school, I knew that I had to be a part of this groundbreaking endeavor. I had spent my career working with families who just wanted to get their kids through school. That was never enough for me–I knew that school should be so much more for ALL kids.

Being a part of the founding faculty at Miriam who share a passion for working with students who learn differently is a dream come true. Building programs that focus on student’s strengths and treating deficits as opportunities for growth as well as nurturing each student’s social-emotional growth, is what Miriam Academy is all about.  I am so fortunate to call it home.

-Submitted by Kathy Puettmann

 

 

 

 

Our sweet son Jacob was diagnosed with global apraxia at the age of three. He had speech, occupational, developmental and physical delays. By second grade the staff at his school realized Jacob needed more than they could give him. It was now time to find the best school for our son.

On the advice of a client, my husband and I toured Miriam School and were very impressed with what we saw. Soon we set a date for Jacob to shadow. I didn’t tell him until the night before because I didn’t want him to argue or get nervous. When I dropped him off that morning he was quiet and it was the longest day of my life. When we picked him up, Jacob was all smiles and asked if he could go to school there. He started a week later and he has been at Miriam ever since!

The teachers and therapists at Miriam School were more than I could have hoped for. When Jacob couldn’t grasp the days of the week, his teacher Miss Candi took his love of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves and correlated the dwarves to each day and it clicked in Jacob’s brain. That is just one of the many instances where the staff figured out what worked best to teach my child. They also incorporated therapy into the classroom which made a world of difference for him. Jacob was happy and successful!

When Jacob graduated from Miriam’s elementary and middle school, he moved on to the new high school Miriam Academy. I didn’t know how the Academy would have a staff as wonderful as the one at the School, but they did! Jacob had a great freshman year and achieved things academically I didn’t think were possible for him. The teachers figured out how his brain works and are truly unlocking his potential. Now a sophomore at the Academy, I can’t wait to see all the progress he will make this year.

What Jacob likes most about school is that his friends are like him and the teachers understand him. What my husband and I like about Miriam is that our son is getting what he needs academically and socially in a safe, caring environment. We know Miriam Academy is preparing him for a successful life.

-Submitted by Lisa Wiley

Behind those sparkling brown eyes and cheshire cat grin lies one of the bravest souls we have ever known. You see, everyday our son Shane wakes up to a world that all too often overwhelms him. The lights, sounds and smells that our brains naturally filter out, his brain cannot. When he was diagnosed with autism at the age of two we were terrified, confused and had so many unanswered questions. Immediately we dove into therapy. At the time, Shane was nonverbal. Things like pointing, waving hello/goodbye and chewing all had to be taught. Shane has worked so incredibly hard over the past four years. Now, at almost age six Shane is a giggly, talkative and inquisitive little boy. He fills our hearts and home with so much love and laughter.

As spring grew closer this past year. We began the daunting task of finding the right school for Shane to attend kindergarten. At this time Shane dreaded going to school. Even at the tender age of four he was already encountering being bullied daily. Every night he would cry about kids not liking him. He felt different. He didn’t feel he was as smart as his peers. We slowly watched the sparkle drain out of his eyes and that beautiful grin we saw less and less of. We knew it was crucial that we found a school that not only provided the therapies he needed but also a school environment that would help him gain his self-confidence back.

So we began the interviews, testing and evaluations, each resulting in a rejection letter. We were left feeling defeated and helpless. Then we discovered Miriam School and our prayers had been answered.

We cannot fully put into words the feeling you get when you walk into Miriam School for the first time. Until our first visit at Miriam School we could have never imagined that a school like this really existed. The hallways were filled with laughter and action. A group of children smiled at us as they jumped rope past us down the hall. Another little boy whisked by us on a scooter. We had never seen anything like it. It was amazing! As we began the tour of the school with each room we passed we could feel hope growing in our hearts. By the time we reached their incredible sensory gym we knew we had found Shane’s school. After speaking with the teachers, therapists and staff about our son’s needs, we felt genuine compassion in their words. They listened; we felt heard! There is no greater gift you can give to special needs parents than the feeling of being heard and understood.

Shane has only been at Miriam School for four months and he is already showing remarkable progress. Shane enjoys telling us about his day. He loves talking about all the new friends he’s made! He no longer feels isolated or judged. Miriam School put the twinkle back in our son’s eyes. They recognize Shane’s full potential and are always there to help him navigate through the challenges he still faces. We would like to thank the teachers, therapists and staff for all of their hard work and dedication. We are beyond grateful. We truly believe Miriam School is more than a school. It’s a community, one we feel very honored to be a part of.

-Submitted by Jessica Baer

I will never forget the day that our neurologist told me our son had Autism.  He observed Michael, asked some questions and said, “Your son has Autism. He will never tell you he loves you. He will never be independent and you need to accept that he will live with you the rest of his life.” As the doctor walked out the door with our hopes and dreams for our first born son, we began our journey to prove him wrong.

Michael attended early childhood classes in one school district, but moved to another district for kindergarten through third grade which proved to be a very rocky.  I tried working with the school’s staff, but it seemed as if I had to fight for any service that was needed. When there was finally a routine and things were on track, the school would pull his paraprofessional and cut back on his “minutes.”

There was so much potential inside Michael and I realized we had to find a school that could teach to his strengths and shore up his weaknesses.  A late night internet search found Miriam Learning Center’s website and we soon enrolled him in their after-school program for social skills.  This really helped Michael!

Thanks to the outpouring of support, which included everything from garage sales and raffle tickets to a small trivia night with our community, family and friends, Michael enrolled in 4th grade in 2014 at Miriam School. The boy who loved learning but dreaded attending school because of past experiences, was coming back within just a few short weeks of being at Miriam. Though he still expressed some typical autistic behaviors, they became less and less and eventually stopped altogether.

Michael is now in 7th grade at Miriam School and doing great!  I no longer dread getting “the phone call” like when he was in public school.  I trust the teachers and staff to do what is in the best interest of my child, academically and socially.  The small class size and incredible staff have made a huge difference for Michael.  Miriam’s personalized approach to learning has been the key to unlocking my son’s potential.

Since coming to Miriam, I have seen so many positive changes in Michael. Thanks to cooking classes, Michael eats a variety of foods that were once a sensory problem for him. He’s even helping in our home kitchen with chores.  Most importantly, Michael can now advocate for himself.  He can step back and say, “I need a break, or the occupational therapy/OT room, or I just need more help.”  And yes, Michael can tell us he loves us, and comprehend what that means.

We know that Michael is now getting the therapies he needs, as well as an excellent education that will help him succeed not only in school, but in life.  The teachers, therapists, and administration really know how to support our son.  It is truly a partnership between parents and school.

The past four years have been full of sacrifices, but we are happy to make them because we know that academically, physically, and socially Miriam saved our son.  Miriam School has placed the future we seek for Michael within reach.

-Submitted by Misti Schwaller

I will never forget my son John’s graduation from Miriam School in 2013. During his eighth grade year, my husband passed away after a long illness. At the ceremony a special announcement was made that John’s fellow classmates were gifting Miriam School with a brick paver to honor his father’s memory. This had so much meaning for our family and represented the compassion that everyone at Miriam School showed to John and our family during this difficult time.

John first came to Miriam in 2009 in fourth grade mostly due to anxiety over school. He was  diagnosed with learning disabilities and auditory processing issues, and later Aspergers. Soon
after John got to Miriam, he began to thrive academically and especially socially. John made many great friends at Miriam and still keeps in touch with several of them today.

John loved so many things about going to school at Miriam! He really enjoyed the sensory breaks in the occupational therapy room and all the great hands-on learning projects. He fondly remembers
writing a story with Mr. Zapf about his favorite action heroes. But more than anything he really
learned how to advocate for himself. Miriam taught John to ask for what he wants in an
appropriate way and gave him confidence.

Shortly after graduating from Miriam, we moved to Seattle where we had family. John recently graduated from high school and I am proud of all he has accomplished including working at an internship program with Boeing. John is great with his hands and may pursue a career in autotech.
Next year he will attend a transition program at a local community college and we feel good about his future.

I want others to know that everyone at Miriam School really embraces both your child and the whole family. John got so much personal attention and we loved the family atmosphere. We have so many great memories at Miriam. I hope other families in need can experience all that Miriam School has to offer.

Submitted by Kate Hettiger