Author Archives: Foundation

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 on line 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

“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

April 18, 2019


Miriam plans $5 million in improvements to former B’nai El Site
St. Louis, Mo – Miriam announced today that the City of Frontenac has unanimously approved a conditional use permit to allow Miriam Academy to locate at 11411 North Forth Drive. Miriam Academy is a small, private high school serving students who learn differently. Plans call for Miriam Academy to be located in the former B’nai El Congregation building upon completion of $5 million in extensive renovations. Miriam is awaiting zoning approval from the Village of Westwood as the property resides in both municipalities.

Miriam Academy opened with its inaugural class in 2016 and today serves 55 high school students at its current location in Town & Country. The Academy provides a learning environment designed to support the education, development and college and career readiness needs of high school students with unique learning needs. The new location would allow Miriam Academy to serve approximately 100 students.

“Miriam Academy addresses an unmet need in the St. Louis region for high school students with learning challenges,” said Miriam’s Executive Director Andrew Thorp. “Revitalizing the former B’nai El structure will allow us to create the perfect learning environment where more students can excel,” he said. “This property represents an ideal site for Miriam Academy to serve its mission to educate, provide hope and inspire unique learners by building confidence and a foundation for success,” Thorp said.

“We wish to thank the City of Frontenac for approving our plans and are hopeful that the Village of Westwood will also provide zoning approval to repurpose the B’nai El property to serve even more students and their families in the community,” Thorp said. The project comes before the Village of Westwood Trustees for consideration on April 23 at 5pm at Frontenac City Hall.

Miriam has a contract with Congregation Shaare Emeth to purchase the B’nai El property. Mike Lefton, President of Shaare Emeth stated, “As current owners of the B’nai El property, Shaare Emeth is pleased to support the mission of Miriam Academy to educate high school students with learning challenges. This is a great use of the existing property and we support the renovation of the building that will preserve the legacy of B’nai El.”

Miriam’s redevelopment of the property would occur within the footprint of the existing building. Improvements include converting half of the large parking lot to greenspace and enhancing landscaping including trees for screening and a fence around the perimeter of the property.

The majority of work in the interior will create a dramatically improved facility designed for longterm viability. In addition, a traffic study was completed by CBB traffic engineers and determined that traffic related to the operation of Miriam Academy would minimally impact existing traffic flow. No field lights will be added. School hours are from 8:30 am to 5:00 pm.

Through three comprehensive programs, Miriam School, Miriam Academy and Miriam Learning Center, Miriam currently serves more than 1,200 students with learning differences each year. Miriam started as an elementary school more than 60 years ago, added a middle school in 2002, and today Miriam School serves 96 students in grades Pre-K-8 with a variety of learning challenges. Miriam Learning Center serves over 1,000 students in the community through after school programs and outreach partnerships with over 60 charter and private schools. Miriam Switching Post is a resale store in Brentwood with all proceeds benefiting the students and programs of Miriam.


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Contact: Laurie Burstein
Telephone: (314) 962-6059

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

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 – 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

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 – 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