Category Archives: My Miriam Story

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



For the past six years, I have taught non-competitive sports for Miriam Learning Center and during the summer camps.  This class is really the perfect environment for kids who want to try sports but find the stress and competitive nature of traditional teams too overwhelming.  Over the last three weeks, this year’s campers and I have had a great time playing hockey, soccer, basketball, dodge ball and many other games.

But more important than the athletic skills are the other skills I see developing in the kids.  Skills like team work, confidence building, and good sportsmanship.  I love teaching them sports, but I love teaching these skills even more – these skills with a lasting impact.

Each and every child in our class is so unique and brings their personality, quirks and all, to the playing field.  We make sure to include everyone, no matter of athletic abilities and social readiness.  What’s most important is that we treat each other with respect and learn the value of what it means to win as a good sport and lose as a good sport.

When I’m not at Miriam, I still get a chance to share these skills with students as a teacher with Special School District where I’ve taught for the last 12 years.  What I love about teaching at Miriam is the way each student is treated as an individual with so much support tailored to their specific needs.  Miriam really “gets” how to work with these kids and I love being a part of it.

In my non-competitive sports classes, I see students who at first are very apprehensive as a result of their past sports experiences.  Each week they open up more and more and their participation grows, along with their confidence.  Some of the most important lessons they learn in my class are being patient and respectful, along with cooperation and teamwork, controlling emotions and building confidence.  That’s what I hope all the kids come away with.  My goal is for these lessons to carry over from the sports field into their lives.

-Sam Suchanek, Miriam Summer Camp Teacher


When my son Adam began preschool at a local Montessori school, I had every intention that he KimAdamwould attend through eighth grade, however his constant “energy” eventually became more disruptive in the classroom. Modifications and understanding were there through kindergarten, but as he became older the expectations of self-direction and self-discipline in a room of 30 children ranging in age from 1st grade to 3rd grade were too overwhelming for him. Adam was struggling and starting to act out in class due to his frustration and unmet needs. He felt something was “wrong” with him. He would cry often and I would hurt seeing my little 7 year old have such low self-esteem and a sense of failure. I knew it was time to find the right place for him.

After having Adam tested, it became clear that in addition to ADHD, he had other learning disabilities. Several schools were recommended to help Adam, and Miriam School was the last place my Mom and I visited. We saved the best for last!

The warm environment, the happy children hopping around the halls, the observation booths, the amazing OT room and “normal” looking classrooms made our decision an easy one. After a summer session at Miriam, Adam felt at home and I could breathe a little easier knowing that Adam had found a place where he could exhibit his creativity, energy, leadership and ingenuity in a loving environment. I began to see a little of his self-confidence begin to come back.

Adam has excelled both academically and emotionally during his years at Miriam. He loves the individual attention he gets and the help he can obtain when struggling with an assignment. His teacher for the past two years, Mr. Zapf, has found ways to tap into Adam’s love of building and constructing with anything and everything he finds! Adam says Mr. Zapf is like a second dad because he helps him be a better person and does fun stuff with him. Because of Adam’s teachers, he has developed more confidence in himself.

During his seven years at Miriam, Adam has had his many ups and downs but the one constant has been the dedication, support and caring of his teachers and the staff. I don’t know how they do it but I am unbelievably grateful that they do! Ms. Cognata has been our strength and sounding board through the many trials and tribulations that Adam and I have both experienced. Her calm and loving guidance have helped Adam find success and self-confidence. I have always known that whatever struggles Adam has, the teachers and staff will help him get through it and learn coping skills.

As Adam prepares to graduate, I am both excited and nervous for Adam’s move into high school next year. Miriam’s transition plan is designed to help 8th graders move on to the best high school for their learning needs, and CBC was one school recommended for Adam. My husband and I are thrilled that Adam enjoyed summer camp and shadow visit there.  We are so proud that he will enter CBC next year in the Cadet Class of 2020.

Miriam has been such a positive environment for Adam and my family that I wanted to give back. I was the parent association president for two years, treasurer for two years, and chairperson for Miriam Friends for the past five years and have served on the Board for six years. I love the Miriam community and look forward to continuing to serve in any capacity that I can in the future.

It has been a long journey full of tears, frustration, fear and cheer, but without Miriam I truly do not feel Adam would be attending a school like CBC or have the ability to monitor his feelings, frustrations, academics and social skills to be successful. Most importantly he is really starting to believe in himself and that there is nothing “wrong” with him.

-Kim Nazaruk, Current Miriam School parent and board member






My grandson Daniel had always loved school, followed all the rules, and gave 110% effort. When he began to struggle in elementary school with learning differences, it was clear his needs were not being addressed. Daniel was viewed as a behavior problem, rather than someone who was BGenofrustrated academically. He would ask daily, “Am I a bad kid?” He was misunderstood by teachers and other students and was becoming increasingly isolated at school. It was heartbreaking to watch him become so discouraged and defeated.

We began an extensive search for the right school to meet Daniel’s learning needs. As a private school director and educator for over 40 years, I knew of Miriam School and its excellent reputation for educating children with learning differences. When I toured the school with Daniel’s father, I was immediately impressed with the energy and engagement of the students and the positive, caring approach of the teachers. Daniel enrolled at Miriam School and right away became eager to attend school again. After just the first week we were so relieved to see the old Daniel emerge.

Since enrolling at Miriam, it has been striking and encouraging to see Daniel’s self-esteem and confidence grow significantly. He was excited to make new friends and quickly found that he was well-liked by teachers and peers. Daniel’s father and I noticed the change in his mood and demeanor within just months of starting at Miriam School. Now he is more willing to take risks and try new things, he has friends, and is usually one of the first at school to welcome a new student. His experience at Miriam has also helped him learn to set goals in other endeavors such as his swim team. He has a great work ethic in terms of personal swim goals, but more importantly he is a caring and supportive teammate.

Daniel has also made wonderful progress as a student. Miriam has an exceptional ability to engage children who have often struggled, and sometimes have even given up. The consistent encouragement and positive approach of the Miriam teachers has made learning enjoyable for Daniel and the wonderful relationships he has with his teachers have motivated him to work hard in every class. Daniel now enjoys reading, whereas it used to be a constant struggle and frustration for him. He also loves math and better understands his strengths and learning differences. He is now proud of what he achieves academically and can see the progress he has made. Seeing him love learning has been a true blessing.

Miriam School has given our family comfort in knowing that each day Daniel will be loved, encouraged, and supported in his school environment. Being at Miriam has allowed Daniel to be the best person he can be and because he feels so good about his school life, he can be caring and concerned for others. He works hard even when tasks are difficult for him and he has learned that even a small goal is worth pursuing.

-Barbara Geno, Current Miriam School Grandparent