My Miriam Story- Clayton
“I am a firm believer that it’s not how you start, it’s how you finish.”
My 11 year-old son, Clayton, had a rough start in school. Diagnosed with ADHD and a sound system disorder that impairs his fluency and articulation of speech sounds, Clayton had trouble sustaining attention in the classroom.
Although he received special services at the school in his north St. Louis neighborhood, the demand for those services in his district was so high that Clayton got only a fraction of the help he needed and quickly fell behind his peers.
He was suffering. He was just going through the motions. He was overwhelmed by school and didn’t want to go.
I brought Clayton to Miriam School at the start of his third grade year and saw an immediate improvement in his self-confidence and performance. He could not read a single sentence when he started, but by the end of that first year he was reading—and reading fluently!
Clayton now aspires to follow in my footsteps and receive two advanced degrees. He is driven by his curiosity and desire to help others, and aims to achieve his goal of becoming a police officer or firefighter.
He doesn’t want to miss one day at Miriam. He really feels like he has a place there…like he belongs. I was worried he was going to have difficulties succeeding in life but I no longer have those. He’s going to be okay.
-Tara Campbell, current parent
My Miriam Story- Cole
When I think of my 7 year-old son, Cole, I think of a spirited kid who has not allowed his challenges to steal his joy. He is sweet, bright, funny, and altogether interesting. When he is not busy being a second grader at Miriam School, Cole loves playing with his dad – be it baseball, wrestling or video games – or vibrantly singing along to his favorite songs or drawing the blueprint of his future city.
The spirited kid Cole is today did not come so easily. Only in the safe learning environment that is Miriam has he truly begun to blossom. Diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder a little more than a year ago, communication and social interaction have been a challenge. At an early age, Cole showed no interest in his peers and never wanted to play or frequent “typical” kid places. During his toddler years, we attributed several unsuccessful attempts at childcare and preschool to his comfort of being at home with me. In retrospect, we realized that although he could speak, he lacked the ability to process and express language necessary for effective interaction.
We could not have imagined what a struggle school would be for Cole. Our district’s “least resistance” approach landed him in a classroom of twenty kids, despite his language and social challenges. The idea was to start with as few accommodations as possible and add others as deemed necessary. However, going from not interacting with any kids at all to being one of twenty was predictably overwhelming. And, although the district had the resources to eventually accommodate some of his needs; it wasn’t able to do so in a timely manner. After one semester of kindergarten we pulled Cole out in favor of homeschooling, with the goal of finding a more fitting school.
Cole attended Miriam’s summer programming prior to starting first grade at Miriam School. It was rocky at first, but with deep pressure hugs from caring staff to get him in the building, a small class size, and a therapeutic environment, he progressed quickly.
Gone are the days of trying to explain the intricacies of our son to general educators. My husband and I feel a great sense of relief with Cole at Miriam because everyone gets it! Cole’s teacher had the other students turn their backs every time Cole came up to participate in morning meeting last year so he could avoid eye contact because it made him so uncomfortable. This year he is able to do the same task with everyone looking at him.
In less than a year, Cole went from not having one friend to having his first birthday party at seven years old with seven new friends. From being terrified to start school last year to counting down the days until the first day of school this year. From needing that deep pressure hug and assistance to get to class to hopping out of the car in the drop-off line and zipping to class all on his own. And, his ability to express himself more effectively with language has come so far. He stands a little taller and lets the outside world in a little more.
When I think of my son, Cole, I think of the essence of Miriam – a school where learning disabilities don’t define kids, or take away from their true potential. Where specialized staff and educators meet kids where they are, teach them how they learn best, and destigmatize differences in a safe environment. Miriam has become a partner in our family’s effort to guide Cole in becoming his best self. And, while he has a ways to go, we are so very proud of how far he has come.
-Kelly Brunsma, current parent
My Miriam Story- DaVonte
One of our success stories with Miriam is DaVonte. DaVonte came to us as a 6th grader this year and he came as a non-reader and non-writer who was undiagnosed with a learning disability. We were able to bring in a tutor through Miriam in specifically reading and writing. Here we are 8 months into the school year and he is reading at a 3rd-grade reading level, which is a dramatic improvement for someone who came in and couldn’t read.
I’m starting to read better and better. At first, I was down there because I didn’t know how to read, but now I know how to read better and better.
Just the other day his communication arts teacher showed the staff an essay that DaVonte had written about how happy he was here and how much growth he had experienced. He talked about how successful he felt in school for the first time. For a kid who couldn’t write a paragraph to go to writing 4 and 5 paragraphs articulating how much he loved school was just amazing.
You have a student now who is engaged in class, who before was completely lost. We hope that he can continue to make this same amount of growth over the next couple of years. We hope he can catch up – and that’s really exciting.
My report card has started to change! At first it was low grades because I wasn’t turning in my homework. Now I’m starting to do GOOD in my classes. I just know it. I’m doing good because I’m changing a little bit.
-Mike Malone, Head of South City Prep & DaVonte, 6th grade student
My Miriam Story- Meredith
Meredith graduated from Miriam School in 2014. She is now a high school freshman at Ursuline Academy in Kirkwood where she runs cross country and is a member of the school newspaper and book clubs. Here’s her “My Miriam Story”…
“Meredith is an 8th grader this year and she is my leader in the classroom. She is a model for what we want other students at Miriam to be,” says Jenny Wand, Middle School classroom teacher.
“I first met her five years ago. She was very shy and didn’t talk very much, even to the adults. Having 10 students in my classroom I’m really able to get to know each child and get to know, as best I can, where they are academically and how or what they may need to meet their potential.”
Meredith is happy to share what makes her school unique.
“At Miriam School we have smaller classrooms and we have different grades in each classroom. It’s not just all 8th grade and all 7th grade. And we do project based learning, instead of textbooks!”
“Once Meredith started hearing from all the teachers about how great she is I think she finally started truly believing it,” says Mrs. Wand. “And now she loves to read! You can catch her reading all the time and she reads maybe 5 books a month. To see that transformation and to see that reading confidence has been amazing.”
-Jenny Wand, Miriam School Classroom Teacher & Meredith M., Miriam School Alumna
My Miriam Story- Owen
Owen has high functioning autism. When we moved to St. Louis three years ago, we had done all the testing we could do for the school district here. We put him in Kindergarten, he lasted two weeks and so we started looking for other options. And we found Miriam School. We immediately went to see it and thought right away ‘This is the home for Owen. This is exactly what he needs.’ And he started the next week.
The progress that he has made in just three years is progress that we never thought he would experience in his whole lifetime. Now that Owen is in his place at Miriam…it’s his comfort, it’s his world, really. Now that he’s there in that world – he can live in our world. Thanks to his whole team there, and especially Ms. Diane, the speech therapist, he has learned how to communicate. And he couldn’t really do that before.
I’ve had the joy and privilege of working with Owen for the last three years now. He is a funny, smart, creative, and artistic guy who has a twinkle in his eye and this awesome smile that you see when he’s successful. He just grins from ear to ear.
For the first time in his life, he’s at grade level. And in many cases – he’s above. When he first started at Miriam he was 6 months to a year behind.
As a parent, you only want what’s best. When he walks in there, I drop him off to a smiling face opening the door. I watch him boogie on down to the classroom – and life is good. For me as a father, that’s a life-changing experience and I couldn’t be happier.
The team at Miriam is truly a team. That’s something we hadn’t been able to find anywhere. But at the heart of that team is Owen. He’s the center and his persistence and determination are why we do what we do. He challenges us every day to be our best.
-Margaret & Greg Dorf, former Miriam School parents & Diane Lewis, Miriam School Speech/Language Therapist
My Miriam Story- Jackson
Tracy: “Jackson has sensory processing disorder. He was three and we had been taking him to speech and getting him early intervention since he was one. Even when he was three we were told by experts that they weren’t sure that he would ever talk. It was very frustrating for him and he couldn’t communicate very well, so he had quite a few meltdowns.”
Cindy, OT: “For a long time Jackson didn’t have the language skills that he needed, and since he didn’t have those skills and his sensory system was so impaired, people weren’t able to hear him or follow through with what he needed.”
Tracy: “It was very stressful and we didn’t know where to turn. It became apparent to us that there was not a lot in our area and that we would need to drive. We were fortunate to find a place like Miriam. We come once a week and he is here for two hours. He’s also done Miriam’s summer camps since he was four.”
Cindy: “Jackson truly benefits from being here at Miriam because we’ve been able to work on fine-tuning a lot of the skills that he was not able to do on his own. Without fine-tuning those skills, school probably would have been very unsuccessful for him.”
Tracy: “When he was younger we didn’t know if he would be able to go to a regular school, but he’s in a regular school now and doesn’t even get pulled out for resources right now. Actually, his teacher told me this year that she really enjoys him. I’ve never really been told that before. There’s no doubt…we are very very lucky.”
-Tracy Welge, Learning Center Parent & Cindy McFarland, Occupational Therapist
My Miriam Story- Greta
Our Miriam journey began in 2008 when my husband, Bruce, and I learned that our family would be relocating to St. Louis from Virginia for his job. One snowy night, Bruce was exploring a neighborhood in St. Louis where he’d seen some houses for sale when he struck up a conversation with a woman who was walking her dog. Bruce called me later that night to say that based on his description of our daughter, Greta, the woman suggested we look into the school where she taught.
The woman Bruce spoke to that wintry evening was Miriam School teacher, Dr. Kathie Pontikes. With over 30 years of experience in teaching children with learning disabilities, it probably isn’t surprising that she was absolutely correct about Miriam being a good fit for our daughter.
Greta is a lovely, kind, intelligent, funny and caring person who happens to be on the autism spectrum. We had a thorough IEP at her school in Virginia. She received extra help, accommodations, and everything else we could manage to put in place. We hoped that this would allow her to succeed in an inclusion class with typical kids. But we eventually had to face the fact that she was really only able to get work done and feel relaxed and successful in the resource room — the room where it was smaller, quieter, where she could sit on a ball chair, have a fidget in her hands, and work at her own pace with lots of personal attention. When she’d return to the bigger, noisier class things would not work out. And Greta felt bad being removed from class. She felt bad being one of the kids who had to leave her friends and go off somewhere else.
So when we found Miriam, it was like a light bulb went off. Here is the small, personal, quiet, caring “resource room” where she can succeed, except it’s the whole school! And ALL the kids are there. No one has to leave. No one is the “different” kid. At Miriam, Greta could be just one of the gang. She got what she needed to succeed at school while also getting to feel like a regular part of the community. It helped her self-esteem more than I can say.
Greta spent the next five years at Miriam, from third to seventh grade, and her time there prepared her for high school and life in many ways. The emphasis on flexible thinking has been a huge help to her, as well as on self-advocacy and finding strategies to work around her disability. But most of all I think simply the experience of getting to feel like a successful, intelligent, valued part of a school community was the biggest help.
Today Greta is a ninth grade student at Grand Center Arts Academy (GCAA) where she earned all A’s in her academic classes. She is passionate about the arts and dance, and is a performer in Circus Harmony. We are very proud of her.
While Greta was a student at Miriam, I went back to school to pursue a degree in teaching special education. Although I have always enjoyed working with kids, I never had a clue that I would or could become a teacher. It wasn’t until Greta’s issues came to the fore and I spent so much time at Miriam that it occurred to me that I could maybe do this, too. I thought I would love to be able to help children and families in this way someday. The caring and honesty of the teachers at Miriam supported not just Greta, but our whole family.
After Greta moved on from Miriam, I realized that I might be able to student teach here. Thankfully, Dr. Pontikes agreed to take me on and show me the ropes. Now that I have my teaching degree, I am substituting in Mrs. Thompson’s class while she is on maternity leave and am happy to be at Miriam every day. I always knew my child was in good hands at Miriam, but to see the work and the genuine love and care that happens behind the scenes has been so reassuring. I am now fortunate to be part of teaching staff and pass on the love, caring and devotion to my students that my daughter was so fortunate to receive at Miriam.
-Erin Stiegler, Alumni Parent and Miriam School Student Teacher
My Miriam Story- Michele
I will never forget my first visit to Miriam when I was greeted by a small child bouncing through the halls on a hippity-hop ball. I knew right away that this was a school that really understood how to create an environment for students to not only learn, but to thrive. I also knew I wanted to be part of the Miriam organization and have served on the Board since 2010.
During my years on both the Executive Committee and as Chair of the Nominating Committee, I have learned so much about Miriam and the wonderful ways they help students like my nephew, Luke, who is a former student. This organization not only knows who they are and want to be, but are disciplined to know what they do not want to be. I first learned of Miriam after becoming involved with another non-profit group and had the good luck to meet Gretchen Davis, past president of Miriam’s Board, and now a good friend and mentor. She had a son who attended Miriam and when I told her that my sister, Suzette, had a son who had been diagnosed with Aspergers, Gretchen began to tell me about the benefits he could realize at Miriam.
Luke’s early years at a public school were sometimes good and sometimes not so good. Our family quickly learned how much of a difference teachers and administrators can have when working with non-traditional students. When it came time for middle school, my sister was looking for alternatives. In 2010, I began my first term on the Miriam Board and quickly became familiar with the quality of the entire staff. Everyone was not only dedicated and passionate; they were also great with kids and always learning themselves about new techniques on how to work with kids with complex learning disabilities. I felt Miriam would be a great place for Luke and more importantly, so did Suzette.
Luke attended Miriam for three years and although initially hesitant, he gradually looked forward to coming to school and made new friends. Luke graduated from Miriam in 2014 and started high school at Bishop Duborg where he is doing well socially and academically. At family gatherings he no longer hides in front of the television or video games and is more comfortable talking with his many aunts, uncles, and cousins. I’m proud of how far he has come, and happy that Miriam’s techniques helped him become more comfortable and confident as he conquers this new world of high school.
It has been so natural for me to become a cheerleader for Miriam. I see the sustainability of the organization through the strong leadership of the Board, Executive Director, and Directors of both the School and Learning Center. I was confident Miriam was a place that could help Luke gain important social and study skills and enable him to do more than he would be able to do without the specialized attention offered by Miriam School. My husband and I firmly believe in the long-term mission of Miriam and established an endowed scholarship fund in 2014 to make sure other kids are able to take advantage of all the best Miriam has to offer.
-Michele Liebman, Miriam Board Member and Alumni Aunt
My Miriam Story- Cody
My 12-year-old son, Cody, is a fun-loving, adventurous, hard-working kid who has had to learn to never give up.
Cody has dyslexia. The school he attended for kindergarten through third grade tried hard to help him, but the large class sizes and lack of understanding of learning disabilities was very frustrating to him as well as his father and me. The biggest challenge Cody faced before he started at Miriam was being misunderstood and feeling “stupid.”
At Miriam, he experienced success for the first time in the school setting and realized that he was smart and capable of learning. His self-confidence slowly began to build.
Our older son even noticed and said, “Wow, Miriam taught Cody to read in five weeks, while his old school couldn’t do that in five years.”
I was worried about Cody missing his friends from his old school but he quickly made friends at Miriam and truly never had a bad day. Every morning he would wake up excited to go to school — often rushing me and telling me he wanted to get there early.
Miriam didn’t change or fix him, it helped him accept and embrace himself for who he is.
Our years at Miriam were a huge relief and almost like a vacation for Cody’s father and me. Every single staff person at Miriam gets it and I never once had to explain him. Miriam is a safe place and you feel that as soon as you enter the building.
Cody is the one who told us he felt ready to return to public school this school year. I was worried that he would get lost in the large classes and lose the confidence he gained at Miriam, but he is adjusting to middle school just fine.
-Molly Szweda, Alumni Parent
My Miriam Story- Adam
My name is Adam. I am 11 years old and a 6th grader at Miriam School in Room 7. I came to Miriam from another private school in St. Louis. Preschool and kindergarten were ok for me, but when I went to first grade, I was miserable. It was so different and I didn’t like the way I had to learn. I had to select what I needed to learn and teach myself and that was hard for me because I had ADHD. Near the end of the year my mom started looking for a new school for me. That was when she found Miriam School.
I went to summer camp here to try the school out and see how it felt. While I was at camp I saw that the people here understood me. They knew how I learned, what my skills were, and what I needed help with. I started to feel safe and happy. That fall I started school here and loved it. I still do.
Now I have been at Miriam for five years. I have had some problems along the way, but the teachers understand me and help me learn how to solve problems that might come up. Miriam School is a place where the teachers are nice, they help you problem solve, and, most of all, you can make new friends.
-Adam N., 6th grader
My Miriam Story- Mary Cognata
Chaos and tears brought me to Miriam School…really and truly. After leaving my teaching position in a regular education classroom; I spent what felt like a disastrous year student teaching in the St. Louis City Public School System. My hope was to reach and impact disadvantaged children with special needs in an impoverished neighborhood, showing them how smart they really were and how education would open up the world to them. In tears, I sat down with my supervisor, telling her that I was not cut out for this because everything I did to motivate, re-direct, praise and teach the class failed miserably. I was heartened and surprised to hear positive and encouraging comments from her, and she ended our discussion by saying, “I want you to go and tour Miriam School.” Having worked here for many years, she knew what I needed to see to be encouraged and I did, indeed, love what I found. After graduation, I jumped at the opportunity to apply for an opening on the Miriam teaching staff.
For much of that first year, I went home thinking that I had made the wrong decision in moving into the special education field. But, as time and this special place worked their magic, I became convinced that I never wanted to leave. The children and staff showed me that all I needed was the right place to practice and grow – and this was it. Every day, every hour, minute by minute the children at Miriam work so hard to make sense of the world and learn in meaningful ways. What an example they set for me! They have the courage and perseverance to come each day and not give up when things are difficult or when they are frustrated or discouraged by always having to work so hard. Our children inspire me to want to do what is best for them and to never give up trying, learning, and moving Miriam forward in the work we do here. My fellow staff members are people I look up to, who encourage me, challenge me to do and to be better. They show me by their hard work and unchanging belief in the mission of our school, that what we do here matters.
Even at Miriam, there is sometimes chaos and tears, but there is also an abiding hope. We show the children here that no one will give up on them. We sense that is part of why they continue to try, even when things are difficult. They know we believe in them and while our days may be challenging and filled with a few tears, they are also filled with laughter, high-fives, and encouraging words. That is why I came here and have stayed here. That is why Miriam is the special place it is and a place where I am proud to be every day.
-Mary Cognata, Associate Head of School
My Miriam Story- Jacob
I’ve been to two schools so far in my lifetime. Before I came to Miriam, I attended a large public school for Kindergarten through fifth grade. My grades were excelling, but the teachers there did not always very understand me. I was always stressed about what would happen next. We had up to five tests each week, which is quite a lot. I prepared for the tests, but still, I got nervous about getting things wrong. I ended up spending a lot of time worrying.
When I visited Miriam for the first time, it was very nice. My teachers here have always been very nice to me. In class I was happy to be learning new things every day. One thing particularly that is different here is that I get as much time as I need to finish tests. That gives me a sense of security, because I know I’ll be able to get everything done. Another thing I like is that I can show what I’ve learned in different ways. School isn’t all about just taking tests anymore.
I’m planning on attending Bishop DuBourg High School next year. It is a small high school and I know that the staff and students there are caring, just like at Miriam School. I think I will succeed there and will go on to do wonderful things in my life thanks to my experience at Miriam School.
-Jacob L., Miriam School Class of 2014
My Miriam Story- Candi
I was in my last year at St. Louis University preparing to give my preferred placements for student teaching when the head of the Special Education Department requested I meet with her about my assigned location. She explained she had a specific school in mind for me. She said it was not a place for just anyone, but thought I would be a good fit for this school, was up to the challenge, would gain great experience, and maybe even learn to love it. She was right – Miriam was special and I fell in love with the students, families, and staff that I encountered. After twenty years it is still truly a unique and wonderful place that I am so proud to be a part of.
I have always felt lucky to be a teacher at Miriam – a place where I am able to teach and make a difference for each student who comes into my classroom. If I see a need for a student, I can support it in the way I think is best. Our children come to us feeling like they can’t learn, they have failed too often, and they have gotten too far behind their peers. They are so frustrated and down on themselves. But we get to watch them become confident and start to love learning again because of our support. They are able to receive the interventions they need and they benefit immensely because of the patience, repetition, tools, and team support of our teachers and therapists. We help them feel like winners in school again.
I will never forget a particular student, who came to my class at the beginning of the year as a non-reader. Towards the end of the school year, he came up to me smiling and said, “Thank you, Ms. Candi, for giving me the tools to read. I just needed someone to show me.” That is why I am so proud and grateful to be a part of this amazing place. If I can get students to recognize and conquer what may be hard for them, give them strategies and successes, no matter how small or how long it takes, give them a safe, peaceful, and comfortable place to learn, then I know I have made a difference in the life of a child.
-Candi Chiburis, Special education teacher
My Miriam Story- Elizabeth
My daughter, Elizabeth, graduated from Miriam School in May. When she enters the halls of Lutheran High School of St. Charles County as a freshman this fall I hope she remembers what I told her: Hold your head high, look people right in the eye when you’re scared, smile big, and when you get home, tell me everything and I’ll listen.
After an early PDD-NOS diagnosis from our doctor, Elizabeth continued to flounder at her preschool. It was hard to see her struggle so much, even at so young an age. The teachers were kind and tried as hard as their resources allowed them to, but she needed more.
In the midst of this, I was also going through a separation and divorce and was feeling overwhelmed and scared about how to help my daughter. But I picked up the phone and called Miriam. On my first visit to I was sitting in the observation booth looking through the window into the occupational therapy room. My heart filled with unbelievable hope that someone could help Elizabeth, and I burst into tears. I was 100% convinced that she had to be a student at the school.
For ten amazing years, I saw Miriam bring out her best. It can take Elizabeth time to find the right words to express her thoughts and put her words into sentences. But at Miriam, she found her voice. She blossomed in an environment that cared so deeply for her educationally, socially, and personally. I saw her learn to face the world bravely and her example taught me to do the same.
Miriam School taught Elizabeth to acknowledge that she has differences, but to be confident and look the world right in the eye, be fearless, and do her best at everything. As I’ve told many of the staff, I believe firmly that their love, care, and complete expertise absolutely saved Elizabeth. She’d be a different person if she hadn’t been here and we are so grateful for the girl she has grown up to be.
-Christine Culligan, Alumni Parent
My Miriam Story- Khloe
My daughter, Khloe, has been coming to Miriam for more than 4 years. We love the local independent school Khloe has attended since Kindergarten, but the staff there told us that she needed some additional help. We turned to Miriam because of their experience in working with students with attention and academic difficulties like Khloe’s. We initially sought out information about Miriam’s summer programs and soon after Khloe began receiving tutoring and therapy services after school.
Since Khloe started at Miriam I’ve seen a jump in her academic success and also in her self-confidence. She is able to get extra practice in subjects she struggles with during the day and the staff has shown how much they truly care about her and want her to succeed. The Miriam tutors have even started a dialogue with her regular teachers to talk about specific areas that they can address in the classroom during the day. The one on one tutoring sessions have been so beneficial for Khloe and I respect her tutors and their dedication to making sure she understands the academic material. I truly believe that the success Khloe has worked so hard to achieve would not have been possible without the guidance and intervention of so many people at Miriam.
Khloe wrote about her experience at Miriam with the help of her tutor. Here’s what she had to say in her own words:
I’ve been coming to Miriam camp for several years and there are several reasons I like being here. I have made friends who I like getting to see and play with. I like water play time, going to recess, and doing crafts like the gummy bear and toothpick ladders we made today. We also do projects like dropping objects into water to see if they sink or float. I also really enjoy going to OT because it helps wake up my body. I like everything about camp.
I also get tutoring at Miriam where I met Ms. Angie, Ms. Haley, and Mrs. Parrish. I have been coming to tutoring for a really long time and my tutors help me with reading, cursive, math, and writing. Tutoring has helped me do better on my homework and in the classroom.
-Stasi Messenger and Khloe C., Current Miriam Learning Center Clients
My Miriam Story- Robbie
I’m Robbie. This year is my 3rd year at Miriam School, where I’m a 7th grader. From Kindergarten through 2nd grade I went to my local public school. I didn’t like it very much while I was there because I had trouble getting along with people and the kids were not nice. It was a hard time for me. The teachers were fine and we got to have an assigned older student who was our buddy. I liked Kindergarten a lot, but I think 1st grade was my favorite. 2nd grade was when the kids started to get meaner and I just didn’t like it anymore. Three kids from my class left the public school that year to go to other places.
For 3rd and 4th grade I went to a local private school that my family thought would be good for me. Once I got there I started to make more friends and the class size was smaller. We had a student teacher with us and she was really cool. I had a few kids that I didn’t really get along with, but there was also a group of triplets that I really liked. In 4th grade, a bunch of new kids came, which wasn’t bad, but things started to feel harder again. I left after that year to come to Miriam, but I didn’t really want to. I only told a few people that I was going to a new school and I really didn’t want to leave my friends. I did know a few people here at Miriam who had come from that school, so I tried to tell myself that it wouldn’t be as scary as I thought.
If I had to describe Miriam School with one word, it would “lively.” It was definitely a different experience. I mean, we only have 100 kids in the whole school! The people here are really nice. It was OK at my other schools, but learning was easier for me here and I met two kids at summer camp that I got to be friends with. I love how Mr. Zapf teaches us history – he lets us REINACT it! I’m going to try and get a reward in Dr. P’s class to go down and help his class with their ancient Greece project. I love ancient Greece, but, man, do I hate math. It’s just a bunch of numbers and lines. Dr. P and Mrs. Lawler both teach math well, though. I’m a visual learner and I figured that out with Mrs. Lawler last year. She does a lot of math on the board, which helps me.
We also get to do occupational therapy in the mornings and it helps me get ready for the day. I have ADHD and I need sensory diet. It’s really good for me and makes me be able to work. There are some kids here who it might seem hard to understand, but if you just wait for them to talk, you find out they are pretty cool. They are different in their own way, but that’s ok.
If people are nervous about coming here I’d tell them that even if you don’t want to leave your friends, you might end up like me. I’m happy to be here because of the friends I’ve made. Everyone’s nice here. Don’t worry about the money. The school will be help. It’s a great place.
Robbie can be heard as the voice of Miriam on radio ads running during the month of October on CBS Radio.
-Robbie R., 7th grader
My Miriam Story- Meg
About a month ago, Ms. Cognata asked me to write about my time at Miriam. I graduated from here in 2011 and I was honored, but nervous, to share about my experiences. I went online for a little inspiration and found a quote on Ms. Cognata’s Pinterest board that said:
“Every child has a different learning style and pace. Each child is unique, not only capable of learning, but also capable of succeeding.”
If you really think about this quote, it’s what Miriam is all about. It’s not about “fixing” a learning disability, but taking each child’s needs and accommodating them to allow that child to succeed in ways they never thought possible. My story is a strong example of exactly that.
I came to Miriam at the beginning of my 6th grade year – and it was a struggle for me. My previous school had given up on me and told me I was too hard to teach and not smart enough. When I came to Miriam I had just learned that I had three specific diagnoses that make it hard for me to learn: Auditory Processing Disorder, ADHD, and an Anxiety Disorder. No wonder things felt so hard.
That first year Miriam taught me who I was. I realized I had been beating myself up based on someone else’s opinion of who I was and how I learned. I had been told I was incapable of doing what I wanted to do which made it hard for me academically and socially. My 7th and 8th grade years at Miriam went much better. I was able to deal with my family situations on my own, get straight As, make and keep a solid group of true friends, introduce a student council and middle school dance to Miriam, and give the opening speech at the gym we are all now sitting in. This school, and all the people who work here, showed me that I was capable of succeeding.
This year I’m graduating from Nerinx Hall High School – Class of 2015. Nerinx is a competitive school and my grades and extra-curricular activities were important to me being accepted there. Miriam gave me the chance to achieve that. Next year I will be attending one of the nation’s top nursing programs at the University of Alabama. I wouldn’t be who I am or where I am without this incredible school.
I look back at the last four years and see how much I experienced and how many risks I took, and I’m grateful that my time at Miriam taught me it was ok to take those risks – and to fail. I’ve learned that something good can even come from my failures. My time at Miriam taught me not to underestimate myself – but just do it. If I had listened to people who told me that I wasn’t smart enough or good enough to go to Nerinx, I wouldn’t be here in front of you today. I wouldn’t be me.
–Meg Royer, Miriam School Alumna – Class of 2011
My Miriam Story- Dr. Kathie Pontikes
Looking back on my 33 years with Miriam, there have been so many proud moments. As I retire this year, I remember how I first came to Miriam and what kept me coming each day for more than three decades.
I had just received my Master’s Degree from St. Louis University when I started, “way back when,” during Miriam’s summer academic program. I was filling in for another teacher who was on maternity leave. When she decided to stay home with her baby, I was offered a full time teaching position.
During my early days, the school was housed in two old buildings connected by a long wooden breezeway. One morning, I came into my classroom only to discover that I had an overnight visitor who had opened the file cabinet and my desk drawers – a raccoon who ate all my crackers and snacks.
Seeing the changes from the old wooden buildings in which I first taught, to our current facility with the wonderful addition of our gymnasium, has been so exciting. Also, when the school extended to eighth grade, it enabled many students to stay at Miriam throughout their elementary years and make the transition to high school rather than during middle school.
The flexibility of the academic program and the individuality of each student is what makes Miriam so amazing. Each year blossoms into something different and special, because the students are different and special. I love the resiliency and motivating drive that they demonstrate. When I walk into school or when the students come into the classroom, we greet one another and enthusiastically start the day. They are also so technologically savvy that they have helped push me into the digital age – no small feat!
One of my proudest moments was the privilege of having Linda Higbee, Miriam Foundation member and past president, establish the CPH Scholarship Fund in Honor of Dr. Kathie Pontikes. That was a true honor I will never forget.
When people ask how I will spend retirement, I have some fun things planned. Everyone knows my love of horses and I look forward to spending time at my friend’s ranch on beautiful fall days riding either Chief or Beamer, my two treasured gaited equine buddies. In addition, my favorite science subjects in class are weather and cloud formations. My husband has a friend who is a weather forecaster and storm chaser and he has invited me to ride along with his storm chasing crew during tornado season. How cool will that be!?
Of course, the best part of being at Miriam all these years has been the students and I will miss them. Many times, they came to our school after having experienced difficult situations in previous schools. It was wonderful to see them grow academically and socially, and then to see them bloom into wonderful, amazing young men and women heading off to high school and to life! It has been one of the greatest joys of my life.
*On June 2, Dr. P was honored with a proclamation from the mayor of Webster Groves, Gerry Welch, who recognized her for her years of service and commitment to Miriam School. Congratulations!
-Dr. Kathie Pontikes, Retired Miriam School Teacher
My Miriam Story- Beth
St. Louis has always been my home. When I graduated high school from Ursuline Academy, I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. I was tired of school, didn’t want to go to college, and was working in the retail field. On a whim, I decided to volunteer at a St. Louis area children’s home, helping run recreational activities for youth with emotional and behavioral issues. Through my volunteer work, I came to admire each child, in part because of the horrific circumstances they had survived, but also for the resilience and strength they showed. This specific experience monumentally impacted my life for the next three decades and I returned to school for my bachelors, masters, and eventually a license as a Clinical Social Worker. Over 35 years of my life have been spent helping children, adolescents, and adults who have learning and mental health issues.
My husband and I raised our three children here in St. Louis and for many years I worked at various hospitals and social service agencies in direct service and management positions while also providing individual, family, and group therapy in a private counseling practice. Then, in 2007, I arrived at Miriam, tasked with founding the Miriam Learning Center with money awarded by the Skandalaris Entrepreneurship Center at Washington University. Our concept of comprehensive educational and therapeutic services at one convenient location was intriguing to me and I knew from my past work that this type of program was much needed in the St. Louis area.
I loved the challenge of getting the new program up and running within two months. We began with seven children, grew to 150 during the second year, and flourished to over 750 in 2014. The Learning Center now provides special education services within 18 St. Louis Charter schools, supports children at multiple private and faith-based schools, and partners with the St. Louis County Children’s Service Fund to help children who are having mental health issues. Miriam has grown to be St. Louis’ one-stop resource for children with learning disabilities. I am so proud to be a part of this organization that bring out the best in so many children in our area. Helping them succeed has been some of the most important work of my life.
-Beth Rose, Director of Miriam Learning Center
My Miriam Story- Eli
Eli’s first encounter with Miriam School was nothing short of miraculous. We brought him in for a day to try it out, and when he got in the car that afternoon his first question was, “When can I go back?” This was a child who hated going to school, who left our house every morning looking miserable. But over the course of six hours at Miriam he had found a new home for himself.
We first learned about Miriam from an occupational therapist who was providing services to Eli. At that time Eli was in public school and it was failing him. The school simply did not offer the kind of support Eli needed to succeed. When we first visited Miriam, we were impressed by the size of the school, the small classrooms, the wonderful facilities (including the fabulous new gym!), and the willingness of teachers and staff to devise an individualized program for our child.
Today Eli is twelve years old and in his fourth year at Miriam. He came to Miriam with ADHD, sensory integration issues, and a number of learning disabilities. Since coming to Miriam his progress has been dramatic. His gross motor skills are excellent, he’s become a good reader, and he loves coming to school every day. Eli seems to be an auditory learner, and we are always amazed at the information he absorbs at school and then shares with us at home. He does his homework without complaining and has learned to take school seriously.
Best of all, Eli has made wonderful friends at Miriam. In public school, he felt like he didn’t belong, and he suffered as a result. At Miriam, he feels at home. He feels relaxed and it’s a place where he can show his wonderful impish personality. It’s become a place for us too. When we report a new concern about Eli to his teachers, they see it as a challenge and they’re genuinely interested in helping us with it. They address the needs of the whole child and not just academic or developmental needs, but social and emotional needs as well. As a result, our child who hated going to school every day now leaves in the morning with a smile on his face, looking forward to seeing his friends and teachers. We genuinely believe that Miriam has saved Eli’s life. Enrolling him at Miriam was the best decision we ever made.
-Michael Sherberg, current parent
My Miriam Story- Noah
Now that back-to-school season is upon us, it isn’t unusual to hear an audible, collective sigh of relief among parents as they drop their kids off each morning. Carefree summer days are great, but Preview (opens in a new tab)after a few weeks juggling work while keeping kids entertained in things other than screens is anything but relaxing. However, I remember when I’d give anything for the school year to be over for my child.
I vividly recall the morning of my son Noah’s first day of kindergarten. He and I entered into a sort of wrestling match to get him dressed for school. When he refused to walk to the car I carried him while he kicked and screamed in protest. He unbelted himself as quickly as I belted him back in. By the time we reached school, we were both exhausted, but getting him into the car proved to be much easier than getting him out. He held onto the back of the driver’s headrest with a death grip. This tearful battle continued for weeks yet when it subsided other troubles cropped up at school.
Noah is on the autism spectrum and struggles with a host of learning challenges including expressive language, sensory processing, hand-writing, reading comprehension, and social skills. But, the big hairy challenge which covers every inch of his being is anxiety – the cornerstone that links kids on the spectrum together. It’s part of their fabric and not something one can simply medicate away.
After Noah’s first year of school, we were introduced to Miriam and began enrolling him in social skills classes through the Learning Center. For years, we continued to supplement his education in this way, but it wasn’t enough. Despite monthly “team meetings” with his teachers and therapists, the gap between him and his peers continued to grow. By the time he hit fourth grade, social circles had completely inched him out. He felt defeated and was becoming more withdrawn each day.
“Mom, it’s not like kids are mean to me…it’s just that they completely ignore me,” he said.
Fast forward to today, Noah is in his second year at Miriam School. He looks forward to going to school every day. He has a solid, circle of friends and he’s thriving. In the evenings he now asks for extra reading time before bed. Extra reading time!
When I asked Noah what he liked most about Miriam School his answer took me by surprise. He didn’t mention the school’s gigantic OT room complete with a ball pit, obstacle course and a variety of swings. He didn’t say it was because he now has a bunch of friends who appreciate and share his unique sense of humor. He didn’t refer to Miriam’s dynamic team of teachers and therapists who never tire of unlocking his potential. Instead, Noah said, “Miriam School makes me feel safe.”
Me too, buddy.
As a parent, Miriam School gives me the assurance I am giving my child the best chance at life. I trust the teachers and therapists will do all they humanly can – to ensure my son is successful. And, it reminds me of a quote by Maya Angelou, “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
I’m so grateful to Miriam School for helping kids and their families feel safe and good and enough.
-Andrea Felgenhauer, Current Miriam School Parent
My Miriam School- Alex
I first came to Miriam School when I was just five years old. My parents made the best choice they could for their son’s education. There were mornings where I refused to get ready to go to school and my parents did whatever they could to get me out the door to enjoy another day.
As my school years went by at Miriam, it was always a positive experience with my teachers and the staff working as hard as they could to get me and my classmates to have fun and learn important skills. Whether it was learning to grip a pencil correctly or learning the history of baseball, something exciting always happened at this great school.
It’s been well over twelve years now since I graduated from Miriam, and the memories are still fresh. Miriam is a school that has taught me great skills that I use every day, such as being organized and enjoying school. I will be graduating from Meramec Community College in the spring of 2016 and I owe so much to my parents and the wonderful teachers who helped along the way. Once I get done at Meramec, I’ll be going to a university to get my bachelor’s degree in sociology. I can’t wait to get started on this new part of my life and I know that Miriam helped me get there.
I got a chance to return to Miriam to do my practicum work this year as part of a class at Meramec. I love working with children and my career goal is to be a case manager for children and their families. During my practicum I have learned so much from these great students and they inspire me to continue to enjoy school, too. Miriam is a great school that can teach everyone something unique about themselves and how they learn. Every Tuesday and Thursday while I am here in the building I see that many of these students are learning things that will benefit them in the long run. Just like me.
I leave you with this quote from the late North Carolina State University basketball coach Jim Valvano: “Extraordinary people do extraordinary things.” I am grateful for all the extraordinary things that Miriam has given me.
-Alex Bower-Leet, Miriam School Alumnus
My Miriam Story- Joe
The young man at Trader Joe’s who was energetically stocking the shelf glanced at me as I came down the aisle. The staff there is usually eager to assist customers, and I anticipated that he would ask me if I needed anything. His look turned to one of questioning, as he said uncertainly, “Mr. Zapf?”
This situation happens more often than one would think, and it usually results in my apologizing for an aging memory and asking for a name. I can recall the name and face of each student I have taught over the years, but rarely can I see the child in the adult.
But then the young man smiled and I knew instantly that it was Jared. Twenty years before that smile lit up my classroom. He was an eight-year-old who put his whole heart into everything, including his smile.
“Jared, it’s great to see you. How is your mom?” I asked.
“She is doing great. We live in University City,” he replied. And then he asked about many of the Miriam staff. “How are Miss Candi and Mrs. James? Are Mrs. Lawler and Miss Cindy still there?”
Jared told me that he liked working at Trader Joe’s. His fellow employees were friendly, his wages and benefits were pretty good. It was not very far to his home. We talked a bit more and he asked me to say hello for him to all those teachers who knew him so long ago.
“That was a good school, I learned a lot there,” he said, smiling as he went back to work.
“So did I,” I said as I headed to the checkout counters.
I didn’t intend to be a teacher at Miriam School. As a young man of 35, I had a good job, a wonderful family, and home. But I wanted to do more with the next 30 years than trade my time for money. So I went back to school to get a master’s degree in education and certification in special education. When it was time to do student teaching, I needed to find a school close to my home so I could teach during the day and still go to work at night.
I found Miriam School about one mile from my house. I had never driven down Bismarck Avenue, so I was quite surprised to find the school was a long and low 1920s era wooden building with a big porch and a barn attached. It didn’t look much like a school, but it did fill the main requirement of being close to home.
I began student teaching with Dr. Pontikes’ class in August of 1989. My plan was to finish eight weeks of student teaching and then apply to Special School District. But at the end of my student teaching, I knew that Miriam School was where I wanted to be.
The outward appearance of the school did not do justice to the wonderful experiences taking place inside. Teachers, therapists, students and their families, along with Miriam Foundation members and volunteers came together to create beautiful transformations. I was inspired by the sacrifices that so many families made to have the children attend Miriam. I was impressed by the dedication of Foundation members to the Miriam ideal and philosophy and I found the school staff equally dedicated and tireless. Above all, every person in the building cared profoundly for the students. This, I thought, is what every school should be.
Much has changed during my 26 years at this special place. Thanks to the hard work of innumerable people, Miriam School today has beautiful facilities and serves even more students every year than it did when I began working here. Somehow most of my colleagues have gotten younger. But my original impression of the Miriam organization has been borne out through the years. I am extremely grateful that I have been a part of a place that helped hundreds of students like Jared grow into fine young men and women.
-Joe Zapf, Middle School Teacher
My Miriam Story- Abbey
My daughter Abbey was diagnosed at an early age with a speech/ language-based learning disability. After an unsuccessful kindergarten year in public school, followed by a year at a private elementary school, a lot of research and advocating on our part, we became aware of Miriam.
I remember our first tour of Miriam School over 20 years ago in the old, ramshackle building, with a maze of small rundown rooms. But beyond the physical environment, we observed caring teachers with small groups of students, students like my then seven-year-old daughter. The atmosphere was an encouraging, creative and non-traditional learning environment. I knew this was the right place for Abbey.
She started her Miriam School experience the next semester in the new building. Over the next few years, Abbey became more at ease, not only academically but socially. The staff was truly connected with the students knowing their personalities and disabilities, uniquely teaching to their strengths, and encouraging growth– all with kindness and compassionate understanding.
After a couple of years at Miriam, Abbey returned to public school. At Miriam, she learned compensation techniques and self-advocacy needed to help her academically. Just as importantly, Miriam helped her learn about herself.
Today Abbey is 31, doing well and a reliable, hard worker at the public library. She enjoys going to movies and concerts, reading science fiction and fantasy books, and is great with computers. Her gentleness and sensitivity create a natural bond with children and animals.
While Abbey attended Miriam, I was an active volunteer, but subsequently moved on. A few years later I ran into longtime volunteer Barbara Silver at a Miriam estate sale. It wasn’t long before I was volunteering again, this time at the Miriam Switching Post resale shop.
At the shop, I love seeing the great donations, researching high end or unusual items, and, of course, making big sales! The other volunteers and our manager, Anne Carr, make it a pleasure to be there. The store’s new location is an exciting new chapter, and I will continue to tell any new customers what Miriam offers for children with complex learning disabilities.
Through more than 20 years as a parent, past board member, and volunteer, I have seen the entire organization continue to grow better and stronger, leading the way for families with children who have complex learning disabilities. Like so many others who have come before me and those who will step forward in the future, I and my husband Dan, hope to pay it forward, to be a small part of Miriam’s positive impact on the community and those we serve.
-Amye Carrigan, Alumni parent & Miriam Switching Post Volunteer
My Miriam Story- Emily
It’s impossible for me to talk about my daughter Emily’s journey without reflecting on my own childhood experience. I was the kind of kid nobody wanted their children to be friends with. There are a lot of terms thrown out to refer to the kind of kid I was: “anti-social” or “problem child,” but I always liked “troublemaker.” I struggled in school, with suspensions, expulsions, transferring schools, and dropping out.
Which brings me to Emily. If you have ever seen Emily flitting through the halls at Miriam School, singing whatever song is in her head and smiling at some random pleasant thought, you would think her spirit is a world removed from whatever darkness I went through at her age. And for a while, so did I.
Emily has always been a bright and shiny soul; a huge personality in a small body. In her early years at school she just seemed more interested in drawing and singing than reading. I simply chalked that up to a creative mind. She was so clever and verbal that it seemed inevitable a light would eventually switch on and she would get up to speed with the rest of her class. But as she fell farther and farther behind, it became obvious that the magic switch would not be flipped so easily.
We consulted a psychologist and had her take a battery of tests. Twelve hours of testing and a 25-page report made it all too clear that her struggles needed to be addressed. Nothing about the diagnosis shocked me. What upset me were the surveys filled out by her teachers. To see that they had formed such a low opinion of my daughter was devastating.
At that moment a different switch was flipped. It was a realization that the “troublemaker” tag that I had so readily carried came not just from a broken home or bad influences, but from years of undiagnosed and untreated disabilities. What I saw was that if those same disabilities weren’t addressed with Emily, her wonderful creative soul could be marred by deep insecurities, social isolation, depression, and maybe even substance abuse. Sound dramatic? Untreated, what would this child be left with? She could have low self-esteem, anxiety, and be disliked and misunderstood by peers and educators. Not exactly a winning recipe for a happy life.
At the suggestion of Dr. Dan Weinstein, we visited Miriam School and instantly we knew Emily had a home. Her first year at Miriam was a complete departure from her previous three years of school. At Miriam, she was surrounded by gentle and understanding teachers who had strategies to address her disabilities. I could tell she was no longer seen as a problem or a distraction in the classroom. As she finally began to experience academic success, we began to see how low her confidence had fallen in the previous years. It shames me that I had no idea how far she had buried her sense of failure and that I didn’t recognize it more quickly.
Emily walked into Miriam as a non-reader and now reads at grade level, but more importantly she has confidence and self-esteem. At Miriam she can be her big personality in a little body and experience success in overcoming her obstacles – all while being loved and appreciated by those around her. That’s a winning recipe for a happy life.
-Chris Lawing, Current Miriam School Parent
My Miriam Story- Daniel
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 frustrated 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
My Miriam Story- Adam
When my son Adam began preschool at a local Montessori school, I had every intention that he would 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 Miriam Story- Sam
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
My Miriam Story- Jacob
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
My Miriam Story- Sara
While in high school, my sweet younger cousin gave me 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 an 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 the 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
My Miriam Story- Tracy
I was a senior at Webster Groves High School the first time I walked through the doors of the Miriam 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
My Miriam Story- Ethan
When I think back about life before Miriam, I see fond memories. However, along with those happy memories, 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
My Miriam Story- Logan and Isaac
As soon as I walked through the doors at Miriam School, I knew I had found the right place for my sons 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
My Miriam Story- Sean
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
My Miriam Story- Leslie
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
My Miriam Story- Ellie
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 woman 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
My Miriam Story- John
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
My Miriam Story- Shane
Behind those sparkling brown eyes and cheshire cat grin lies one of the bravest souls we have ever known. You see, every day 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
My Miriam Story- Michael
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
My Miriam Story- John
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
My Miriam Story- Jacob
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
My Miriam Story- Kathy
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 shares 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
My Miriam Story- Damiano
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
My Miriam Story- Ryder
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 judgment 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
My Miriam Story- Jake
My Miriam Story- Devlin
My son Devlin is the bravest person I know. When he was just two and a half years old, he was diagnosed with autism. Though he didn’t have much language, we were able to come up with a game plan and he did fairly well in a special education classroom.
Everything changed right before his fifth birthday when Devlin was hit by a car. Both of his legs were broken and this beautiful tiny child of mine was in a body cast from the waist down. It was heartbreaking, but this tragedy brought about language and he began to blossom. Less than six months later, Devlin would have to have his femur rebroken and go through the mending process again. On the bright side, his speech continued to improve during this time.
Devlin entered kindergarten in a new classroom for children on the spectrum and we were hopeful, but he was then diagnosed with ADHD. This was tough because he needed medicine. While Devlin did well in a special education classroom, he was later mainstreamed into a typical classroom and he got little support.
The older Devlin got, the more he stood out from his peers. It was tough finding a place he “fit.” The special classrooms were no longer a good fit and the traditional classroom setting was getting harder every year.
When Devlin was 11, he was diagnosed with anxiety and it was pretty debilitating. Crowds would throw Devlin into panic attacks and he became more isolated with few friends. I was so worried about him and I knew something had to change.
One day my aunt said she had a friend who knew a teacher at Miriam Academy and recommended I talk to humanities teacher Chris Holmes. I spoke to Mr. Holmes and he suggested I tour Miriam’s new high school. I wasn’t sure about moving, but I agreed to come look at Miriam Academy and soon everything changed.
I was overcome with emotion when we toured. I cried because I knew Devlin belonged at Miriam Academy. When he was accepted, we picked up and moved to be closer to the school.
Devlin warmed up far quicker than I expected. He became more and more himself again. He gets in the car happy, laughs and he feels good about himself. I haven’t seen this side of Devlin in a long time and it is so refreshing.
When I drop Devlin off in the mornings, I sometimes find myself tearing up because I am so thankful for Miriam. The staff not only understands him, they embrace him. Devlin thinks outside of the box and the teachers at Miriam know how to encourage him. I love it!
As a single parent, I have always worried about what would happen to Devlin when I am gone. But his experience at Miriam has given me confidence that Devlin has a chance at a really great life, with friends and love. Miriam is the difference between surviving and thriving. We are so
thankful and I am so proud of Devlin, my true hero.
–Submitted by Heather Riney
My Miriam Story- Nathaniel
When our seven-year-old son Nathaniel came home on the first day of Miriam’s summer camp program, he told me that he was learning how to make and be a friend. This was the first time he had ever verbalized what he had learned in a day. What a huge accomplishment for him!
Nathaniel is a bright, happy, sweet child who also struggles with emotional regulation, visual processing, language, and word retrieval and working memory deficits. We decided to get him extra support and found Miriam through our occupational therapist. Nathaniel started with Miriam Learning Center last summer when we hired a language therapist and an academic tutor to come to his previous summer school. By the time school started, he had progressed through many of his IEP goals for reading and was already communicating more clearly and frequently, so we continued to have Miriam’s tutors come during the school year.
Miriam worked with Nathaniel throughout kindergarten at his public school and helped him with academics and speech/language. He has really thrived with the one-on-one attention and we have seen so much progress, especially in the areas of his reading and speech.
Now at Miriam’s summer camp, Nathaniel is really enjoying the Harry Potter theme. As part of the Confident Kid’s Social Skills class, Nathaniel is learning about sharing, taking turns and kindness through lots of fun activities. When he brought home a chocolate frog he made, he had the biggest smile on his face. He has been really excited to show off his work, which is somewhat unusual for him. It is clear that he really enjoys being at Miriam. He recently told us that Miriam’s summer camp is his favorite place so far!
Miriam’s small class settings are great for Nathaniel. The teachers understand him and if he has a meltdown, he is learning a life lesson about how to handle his feelings, rather than just being set aside until he’s ready to rejoin the group.
We have consistently seen identifiable progress in our son when Miriam has been involved at both camp or school. Miriam’s teachers and staff have provided Nathaniel with new tools and skills to better handle many of the challenges he faces. At Miriam, he has a safe place to practice these skills and build more confidence.
Miriam and all their staff truly care for their students and children. They provide a safe and nurturing environment as well as the knowledge and skills to assist children to achieve, be successful and show their true potential.
-Submitted by Karen Myrick
My Miriam Story- Austin
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 Miriam Story- Santos
“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
My Miriam Story- Mary
I have spent the summer working in the Miriam School gym, looking out the window at the new middle school building and renovation project taking shape. Seeing the old being revitalized, while observing the new being built on what has come before is a wonderful metaphor for our new chapter as I become Head of School.
As I look to this new future, I naturally think about how far Miriam School and I have both come in the 19 years since I first walked through the doors of Room 7 to begin my career here teaching 4th, 5th and 6th grades. During the 11 years I was in the classroom, we created a strong program integrating social skills and rigorous academics and we opened the middle school where I was asked, along with Dr. Kathie Pontikes, to teach the first 8th grade class.
In 2010, I transitioned to Associate Head of School and during the next eight years, we added a gymnasium which enabled us to enhance our arts, OT, and social skills programming, as well as a playground that gives students another sensory outlet during the school day. We also implemented
a 21st century learning approach across all subject areas, including an emphasis on project based learning for science and social studies.
We added a teaching kitchen and a community garden, both of which afford students opportunities to gain and use a variety of skills to reach out into the wider community as they plan, grow, sell, and donate produce as well as create dishes for others.
A generous donor enabled us to implement a one-to-one iPad program and
then, as now, we have continued to research, pilot and implement innovative
curriculum, as well as train future teachers and therapists as we collaborate with
All of these initiatives have helped to secure our standing as leaders in the field of educating children who learn differently. Now, we stand ready to grow an even stronger program all while we keep the best of the past—namely a culture of collaboration, caring and respect alongside the families we serve.
As I begin this new era in my tenure as Head of School, I find myself with many thoughts looking out
the window to the future. One thought stands above all — gratitude. I am grateful to the board and executive leadership who have given me this opportunity to guide a program that for 62 years has changed the lives of so many children and families and led them to a better future.
I am grateful to the families who believe so passionately in the work we do here and who work alongside us to help their children achieve success. I am grateful to the faculty and staff who work with every child as if he or she were their own. They faithfully strive to deliver the finest, most comprehensive program possible to every child, every day.
Most of all, I am grateful to our children who come to school and work to be the best they can be. I am always amazed by their bravery, dedication and hard work every day. Who among us shows up and does hard things day after day, never giving up, always willing to try again, for as long as it takes to be successful? These are our children.
I look forward to working with all those who believe so deeply in Miriam School and the work we do here — board, executive leadership, families, faculty and staff — to ensure that the view out the window is always one of a community that is building for the strongest, brightest future possible for children who learn differently.
-Submitted by Mary Cognata
My Miriam Story- Owen
Our journey began when Owen was born almost 13 years ago and was a mystery from the moment he took his first breath. We were living in the suburbs near New York City with access to the best hospitals, schools and experts in the world. Yet none of them had any answers for us. Years of doctors and therapy appointments led us to a diagnosis of high functioning autism and epilepsy. The diagnoses did not change anything – it was just a label.
When Owen was about to start kindergarten, we left New York and came to St. Louis for a job opportunity. He entered public school and made it about ten days. Thankfully we heard about Miriam School from a friend and immediately enrolled him at the Learning Center and applied to the school. Owen was accepted and finally became the child we knew was inside him.
At Miriam, Owen was happy, loved and getting exactly what he needed emotionally, physically and academically. This calmness spread to our entire family, and we were able to do things that we had never done before.
In October 2014, we had to move to Pennsylvania for my husband’s job. We felt Owen was ready as he was now in third grade and had exceeded all of our expectations. Prior to our move, we contacted seven private schools that educated children with learning differences in hopes one would work for Owen.
Once we got to Pennsylvania, Owen did his school visits but needless to say, none of these schools were like Miriam School. They did not have the warm, loving and accepting environment that you feel at Miriam when you walk in the front door. We spent the next two and a half years searching for the Miriam of Pennsylvania and Delaware.
Owen went to three schools in those two and a half years and we moved again within Pennsylvania to be closer to a school we thought would be a good fit. This school was state of the art for children in K-12 grades with learning differences. We sold our house and made the move again for Owen.
Within the first week, we knew he was unhappy again and had made a mistake. I began secretly working on an escape plan to get back to St. Louis for Owen to come back to Miriam. This would be our ninth move if we could make it happen. The stars aligned and in the spring of 2017, we were hopeful that a move back to St. Louis for the Miriam School would become a reality.
My husband was able to get a job based in Indianapolis and they agreed that we could live in St. Louis for Owen. We did the research and showed them there was no school for Owen in Indianapolis that was like Miriam School. Owen started back at Miriam in June 2017 at summer camp and now our Owen was BACK!
Wow, what a difference to see this transformation of our Owen that had been missing for two and a half years. Thank you to the Miriam team for welcoming Owen and our family back “home”!
-Submitted by Margaret Dorf
My Miriam Story- Beth
Our Miriam story is about finding the right place at the right time. Miriam School was that special place where my daughter Beth felt welcome right away and found the perfect fit to grow academically and socially. Now a senior in high school, we know that Miriam gave her the foundation to be successful as she prepares to graduate this year and move on to college.
The story begins when Beth was diagnosed with dyslexia and ADHD in first grade while attending a public school. Her father and I learned as much as we could about learning disabilities and decided that a smaller school dedicated to students with learning differences would work best for Beth.
She attended another school for the next four years, but she just wasn’t happy socially. When the time came to have her diagnosis renewed, it was disappointing to see that she had not progressed
to the extent we and her doctor expected. Her doctor then recommended Miriam School and she entered in sixth grade.
I could see almost immediately that she was happier at Miriam. Beth was getting a lot more personal attention and had much closer relationships with the teachers. Beth really thrived in Miriam’s learning environment, plus she had more friends and even participated in student council.
Beth is a child whose disabilities are not as significant as some others. That was one of the great things about Miriam – they can give that amazing individual experience to children with many levels of need. Being at Miriam really gave Beth a complete comfort of being with people of all different abilities. She learned acceptance of others which will serve her throughout her life.
After attending Miriam for three years, Beth was able to enter high school and fully participate in all classes with no special accommodations. She currently is a senior at Grand Center Arts Academy with a 3.9 GPA and is 6th in her class.
I honestly believe that without the social and academic skills Beth received at Miriam, she would not be doing as well as she is today. Beth learned organization and study habits at Miriam, plus she learned how to advocate for herself when needed with teachers and others. She really learned how
her challenges affect her and what to do to make her own accommodations.
Beth loved how the teachers at Miriam really got to know and understand her. She also developed a love of both science and theater at Miriam. Some of her favorite memories include the science experiments and also the organic garden.
Beth is now applying to a variety of universities and is already accepted into a number of programs. She is excited about her future and this would not have been possible without the unbelievable education foundation given to her by Miriam and its incredible teachers and staff.
–Submitted by Julie Stapf, Miriam School alumni parent
My Miriam Story- Xavier
I still remember the initial nervousness I felt when my then five-year-old son Xavier attended a two-day trial session in Miss Angie’s class at Miriam School. Would he react well to the other children? Would he be able to communicate effectively with his teacher and the therapists at Miriam? Would he develop the strong friendships that every parent hopes for their children? The answer to all of these questions eventually became yes!
Though Xavier was a happy and affectionate child, he had difficulty communicating verbally. He also had problems dealing with his emotions and with normal auditory processing. My wife Candice and I eventually sought out a neurologist after several developmental milestones were missed. In the summer of 2010, Xavier was diagnosed with autism.
After careful consideration, we made the decision to send Xavier to Miriam School and he began in the fall of 2014. We felt that Miriam had the right structure in place to meet all of his needs, whether academic, social, sensory, or therapeutic on a daily basis.
Today Xavier is a happy, confident 10-year-old boy who enjoys playing with the friends he has made at Miriam. He is able to effectively express his feelings verbally to his teachers and friends. A big factor in Xavier’s success is the small class size and attention he gets at Miriam. The teachers have the privilege to devote more individual time to each student and can appropriately assess and meet the needs that will make each student successful.
One of our son’s favorite things at Miriam is the yearly talent show. Last year, Xavier participated in the magic show. It’s incredibly exciting to see your child have confidence and watch that self-assurance translate into other areas of his life. Miriam is really a special place because there is a priority placed on the amount of time spent with each student whether in the classroom, in therapy, or in the many activities that occur during the day. Miriam is more than just a school: it is a place where children can thrive in an atmosphere that embraces different ways of learning while nurturing each student.
-Submitted by Mark Kadlec, Miriam School Parent
My Miriam Story- Nicolas
“Your son does not engage with other kids in the sandbox.” “He’s not in the circle with the other kids, but off doing something else in the room. But when we ask him what just happened in the circle, he can tell us in detail every time.” These are just a few of the reports we were getting from three schools before we discovered Miriam, or should I say, before Miriam saved our son Nicolas. From the moment he nervously set foot in the building, Nicolas began a whole new journey of social interaction and love of learning.
With a diagnosis of high functioning autism and Asperger’s, Miriam gave us a gift of accepting Nicolas in the Spring of 2010 and he graduated in the Spring of 2015. Now a senior in high school, he is preparing to enter college in the Fall.
As Nicolas shared in his college essay describing his identity, he came to Miriam with few social skills and a lack of trust in other kids. Through his time at Miriam, we learned as a family what triggered his outbursts and Nicolas learned how to advocate for himself when he needed to change course. Miriam also gave him the skills he needed to transition to high school.
The learning in the classroom at Miriam came with patient teachers who gave our son what he needed to succeed. Sometimes that came in the form of rewards. Other times it came in the form of high praise from teachers he truly admired and respected. He especially loved Dr. Kathie Pontikes where he enjoyed her teaching style and sense of humor. It’s teachers like Dr. P who make Miriam so special.
When Nicolas started Clayton High School as a freshman, little did we know our son would blossom immediately and love being academically challenged. He’ll graduate this May from Clayton with a 4.0+ GPA and at the time of publishing has gained admission to several universities with top-ranking Computer Science programs.
I believe what Nicolas will look back and appreciate most at Miriam are the teachers and the friendships with classmates. He continues to keep in touch with some of his Miriam friends through gaming and chats online. It took a lot of work, but to this day I am most proud of the fact that Nicolas can advocate for himself, communicating to classmates and teachers what he needs in a given situation or environment.
Miriam is a special environment where Nicolas felt accepted for his differences. It’s a school where students learn to walk out of the classroom when they need to and check themselves into the sensory room or ride a tricycle around the hallway in order to release some pressures of the day. Miriam teachers are miracle workers because they are so in tune with the individual student and know just what a student needs in any given moment.
-Submitted by Andrew Newman, Miriam School Alumni Parent
My Miriam Story- Maria
Through Maria’s early childhood and elementary years, she always had many friends and was a very fun-loving girl. She’s always been more on the quiet side, in fact, her teachers questioned her ability to speak—“ is English her second language?” As the years passed, we noticed more and more her struggles with focus, attention, fears, and learning delays. As we searched for answers and had her tested, her social skills were worsening.
When she started high school, it became a complete struggle. Refusal to attend school became an everyday problem. “There’s got to be a better way for her,” we thought. Searching online and talking with family and friends, we came across the Miriam School.
Her diagnosis was extreme social anxiety. Miriam was so helpful and definitely caught our attention. We toured the school and were informed that a new high school would be started in the new school year! What a wonderful God-send! A perfect match— to start her with a new beginning—a new school—a school that can meet her needs!
She was very comfortable knowing she could be in a small classroom setting. She found comfort in the teachers who were all experts and were hand-chosen for this special place! Gradually Maria found herself building her confidence, and she found her own individuality. There was no competing with other students. She became comfortable making friends, in fact, she started becoming strong with staying true to herself and the friends around her. She stood up for other individuals in her classroom and became a leader.
Maria best expresses herself through music and has matured into a beautiful creative individual. We are all so proud of her and she is proud to say that she is part of the inaugural class of Miriam Academy!
–a huge thanks from the Inman Family,
-Submitted by Kathy, Mark and Maria Inman
My Miriam Story – Zander
Our son Zander is a charming young man, complete with a bright smile that lights up a room. Now a sophomore at Miriaam 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
My Miriam Story – Kaden
Kaden holds the distinction of being at Miriam longer than any current student. Now a sophomore at Miriam Academy, Kaden first entered Miriam School at age six with a diagnosis of ADHD and Autism Spectrum Disorder. Kaden trotted into Ms. Angie’s first grade room with more than a little trepidation, but any fears were calmed when they immediately bonded. The enthusiasm of the staff at Miriam School cemented our confidence we had made the right decision.
Kaden completed his elementary and middle school education at Miriam School which offered our son a full spectrum of education and therapies tailored to his specific needs. He received speech, occupational and physical therapies which blended with the educational curriculum for a well-rounded experience.
But Miriam School was more than a source of education and therapy for Kaden. It provided an environment for social growth and awareness that led to friendships and lasting memories. Kaden blossomed as a student and enjoyed going to school every day. His coordination and motor skills improved to the point where he no longer needed additional therapies. He progressed from tirelessly learning to hold and maneuver a pencil correctly, to having the skills, patience and athleticism to obtain a Black Belt in Tae Kwon Do at age 14.
Last year we were excited to enroll Kaden at Miriam Academy to complete his high school years. Without a doubt his freshman year was the most fulfilling and rewarding year Kaden has had as a student! His confidence and maturity grew week by week as the teachers inspired him to push himself intellectually and socially. Kaden is finally able to experience the pride and satisfaction of tackling educational projects and completing them with high standards.
The reward is not just the letter grades, but the sense of accomplishment and happiness he exudes. For the first time he played on a baseball team with his fellow classmates and experienced the fun of team effort. His first “base hit” is something we will never forget.
Perhaps more important than acknowledging Kaden’s growth and maturation is the recognition that he has taught us as much as we have given him. Through voice and action, Kaden has shown us how to live with a heart filled with love, tolerance, acceptance and integrity. He is a motivation to all that are in his life. While we believe we are leading him, he is actually guiding us.
-Submitted by David and Amanda Berg
My Miriam Story – Nick
Miriam Academy has changed my life in so many ways. Since coming here two years ago as a freshman, I am now more open and friendly. The way I talk to others, and even to myself, has improved greatly. For me the best part about the Academy is not only the subjects and skills I am learning, but the lifelong friendships I am making.
My past school experiences were not so great. Bullying was a big problem that affected me both mentally and physically. I was often angry and frustrated which led to not thinking before I acted. Sometimes I didn’t go to school to avoid the bully and all of the stress.
But Miriam Academy changed everything. This school is truly a lifesaver and I might not even be in school if it were not for Miriam. My social and academic skills have increased astronomically and no more bullies!
The Academy is an opportunity to make great friendships not only with your peers, but with the ones you look up to like your teachers and head of school. These are the kind of friendships we all cherish because they are amazing and unique. Yes, academics are important, but without friends then you don’t have anyone to share your knowledge and happiness with. Now I have the friends and support I need. That is how Miriam Academy changed my life.
–Submitted by Nick Lewis, Miriam Academy junior
My Miriam Story – Alex
Alex has always had an interest in flying. When he was young, our son would fly simulations on his computer or play flying video games, always with the hope of flying for real someday. Two years ago, he took a discovery flight through the Young Eagles program where a pilot will take a young prospective student pilot for a 30-minute introductory flight. After that, Alex was hooked. Because of the large amount of reading and studying it takes to become a pilot, we were unsure if he would be able to handle this challenge.
But for Alex this school year was bringing a new school. After attending Miriam Academy for a few months, it was clear: new school, new confidence, new maturity and it was the right time to start flying. The happy, fun-loving kid that we once knew was back! His excitement and love of flying helps him tackle the studying and reading that comes along with getting a pilot’s license.
As a parent, I have watched Alex change since attending Miriam Academy. The teachers and staff have been incredible. They are available to help and answer questions at all times for students and parents. Everyone at the Academy knows the students as individuals and works with them as individuals.
Alex actually wants to go to school every day! His favorite part about the Academy is all of the new friends he has made, along with the help and encouragement of his teachers. He also loves the after school clubs, with the bowling and cooking clubs as his favorites.
Alex has begun his training at Ideal Aviation in Cahokia, Illinois. He has ground lessons and flight lessons twice a week. His instructor is helping build his confidence and growing his passion for flying. This is a long process and takes a lot of dedication, but with his new-found confidence, Alex is ready to tackle this endeavor.
We all want to see our children succeed. Now I believe Alex has a school, Miriam Academy, that will help him succeed.
-Submitted by Krista Ryffel
My Miriam Story-Taylor
I have always loved English. Everything about it has always made me happy: how you can express yourself in writing, how every person has a different interpretation of the same piece, or how various authors can turn scratches on a page into words that can bring you to tears or make you question your entire existence. I have always not only enjoyed but excelled in it. Then, I went to high school. I was absolutely miserable. The teachers were conditioned to teach and not to help the students learn. I was afraid to ask questions, participate in class, or even talk to people. My grades started to fall. I developed school anxiety and depression. I lost my creative voice.
Then, my family and I discovered Miriam Academy. I decided to visit and see if it would be a good place for me. When I walked in, I admit, I was kind of scared. I was so used to the normal desk-and-chair learning that I never expected to see people hopping around in body socks or sliding down the halls on scooters. Yet, I had a special feeling about Miriam and knew this was the school I wanted to attend.
When I started at Miriam, I was still dealing with that hopeless feeling that I had developed at my previous school. I forced a smile on my face every day and trudged through my classes. It was still a struggle. It’s hard to see the light when your fire has been put out.
Slowly but steadily, I didn’t have to force a smile. I excelled in all of my classes. I made wonderful friends that accepted me for me. My fire was reignited. Now, I’m able to write better than ever, even about sensitive topics like this. I hope to be a novelist one day and have grown the confidence to truly believe that I can do it. Miriam has not only been a blessing in my life, but it has also made an impact on how I will live my life in the future.
-Submitted by Taylor Defusco, Miriam Academy student
Two Generations At Miriam: My Miriam Story
By Rianna Glazier-Snow
Having my son at Miriam, walking the same halls and experiencing the same love and support that I received as a child, is so special. I’m just ecstatic that Tristan is able to go there.
I started at Miriam in third grade, after being diagnosed with multiple learning disabilities. I had many opportunities at Miriam I wouldn’t have had at other schools. The unique ways they offered for me to learn really helped me.
After some time at Miriam, I had accepted my challenges and felt comfortable with myself. I was confident enough to ask for help, and I knew what I needed to ask for. I now see that same thing happening with Tristan. He realizes what he needs to be successful, and he’s comfortable enough to ask for it.
The small classes and the general understanding the teachers have of the students – they get that it’s just who we are, that we’re not trying to do the wrong thing – make all the difference in the world.
Tristan has ADHD. At Miriam, they understand he sometimes is just unable to sit still. Rather than giving him consequences or forcing him to sit, his teachers suggest that he run a lap through the halls, bounce on a mini trampoline or visit the occupational therapy room. There are so many more options for him.
I also see Tristan making great friends at Miriam, which was hard for him in kindergarten at the public school. I had the same experience. All of the students were so accepting and it was easy to make friends. I’m still good friends with some of my Miriam classmates.
I’m also still in touch with a few of the faculty and staff – especially Ms. C. She was my teacher for two years and we had a very special connection. She was my mentor, my guru, my second mother. She still is, actually. She went through a lot with me, both at school and personally, and I still go to her for support.
It was scary to leave Miriam. I knew things would be different. I went to a public high school and even though I did well, they just didn’t know how to support me in the right ways. Not much was expected of me, and because of that, I really didn’t learn everything I could have in those four years.
I did go on to get a certificate in cosmetology and an associate’s degree in construction and carpentry. I know these were possible because of Miriam. At Miriam, I learned how to be successful in an educational setting.
Miriam changed my life, and I am so thankful my son is receiving the same support.