I always knew I wanted to be a teacher. Starting in the fourth grade, I began staying after school to help teachers do odd jobs in their classrooms. Little did I know that this would help shape my future career.
In college, I quickly discovered that as much as I enjoyed the education classes, I wanted more of a connection with students. I was drawn to Special Education and have been passionate about serving exceptional students ever since.
My path lead me to developing programs for students that did not “fit” the traditional school model. The first stop on my journey was at an elementary school where I spent five years developing and implementing a thriving resource program that was often used as a model for other parochial schools.
I left that school after the birth of my first child and spent the next 10 years raising my children and hanging out at their school every chance I could get! I served as the president of the Parent Teacher Organization, and served on the Board of Education and the Marketing Committee. All these experiences kept me connected and involved in developing quality programs for students.
When I chose to re-enter the workforce, I went back as a middle school language arts teacher at another parochial school where I spent two years preparing students for high school, though not all of them were quite ready. Those students needed more interventions at the primary and intermediate levels, and I took on the challenge by creating a resource program that provided pullout and class within a class services. I later developed an enrichment program to meet the needs of the gifted learners.
After years of developing programs for exceptional and twice exceptional students in private schools, I found my forever home at Miriam Academy! When I heard the news early in the spring of 2016 that Miriam was going to open a new high school, I knew that I had to be a part of this groundbreaking endeavor. I had spent my career working with families who just wanted to get their kids through school. That was never enough for me–I knew that school should be so much more for ALL kids.
Being a part of the founding faculty at Miriam who share a passion for working with students who learn differently is a dream come true. Building programs that focus on student’s strengths and treating deficits as opportunities for growth as well as nurturing each student’s social-emotional growth, is what Miriam Academy is all about. I am so fortunate to call it home.
-Submitted by Kathy Puettmann
Our sweet son Jacob was diagnosed with global apraxia at the age of three. He had speech, occupational, developmental and physical delays. By second grade the staff at his school realized Jacob needed more than they could give him. It was now time to find the best school for our son.
On the advice of a client, my husband and I toured Miriam School and were very impressed with what we saw. Soon we set a date for Jacob to shadow. I didn’t tell him until the night before because I didn’t want him to argue or get nervous. When I dropped him off that morning he was quiet and it was the longest day of my life. When we picked him up, Jacob was all smiles and asked if he could go to school there. He started a week later and he has been at Miriam ever since!
The teachers and therapists at Miriam School were more than I could have hoped for. When Jacob couldn’t grasp the days of the week, his teacher Miss Candi took his love of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves and correlated the dwarves to each day and it clicked in Jacob’s brain. That is just one of the many instances where the staff figured out what worked best to teach my child. They also incorporated therapy into the classroom which made a world of difference for him. Jacob was happy and successful!
When Jacob graduated from Miriam’s elementary and middle school, he moved on to the new high school Miriam Academy. I didn’t know how the Academy would have a staff as wonderful as the one at the School, but they did! Jacob had a great freshman year and achieved things academically I didn’t think were possible for him. The teachers figured out how his brain works and are truly unlocking his potential. Now a sophomore at the Academy, I can’t wait to see all the progress he will make this year.
What Jacob likes most about school is that his friends are like him and the teachers understand him. What my husband and I like about Miriam is that our son is getting what he needs academically and socially in a safe, caring environment. We know Miriam Academy is preparing him for a successful life.
-Submitted by Lisa Wiley
Behind those sparkling brown eyes and cheshire cat grin lies one of the bravest souls we have ever known. You see, everyday our son Shane wakes up to a world that all too often overwhelms him. The lights, sounds and smells that our brains naturally filter out, his brain cannot. When he was diagnosed with autism at the age of two we were terrified, confused and had so many unanswered questions. Immediately we dove into therapy. At the time, Shane was nonverbal. Things like pointing, waving hello/goodbye and chewing all had to be taught. Shane has worked so incredibly hard over the past four years. Now, at almost age six Shane is a giggly, talkative and inquisitive little boy. He fills our hearts and home with so much love and laughter.
As spring grew closer this past year. We began the daunting task of finding the right school for Shane to attend kindergarten. At this time Shane dreaded going to school. Even at the tender age of four he was already encountering being bullied daily. Every night he would cry about kids not liking him. He felt different. He didn’t feel he was as smart as his peers. We slowly watched the sparkle drain out of his eyes and that beautiful grin we saw less and less of. We knew it was crucial that we found a school that not only provided the therapies he needed but also a school environment that would help him gain his self-confidence back.
So we began the interviews, testing and evaluations, each resulting in a rejection letter. We were left feeling defeated and helpless. Then we discovered Miriam School and our prayers had been answered.
We cannot fully put into words the feeling you get when you walk into Miriam School for the first time. Until our first visit at Miriam School we could have never imagined that a school like this really existed. The hallways were filled with laughter and action. A group of children smiled at us as they jumped rope past us down the hall. Another little boy whisked by us on a scooter. We had never seen anything like it. It was amazing! As we began the tour of the school with each room we passed we could feel hope growing in our hearts. By the time we reached their incredible sensory gym we knew we had found Shane’s school. After speaking with the teachers, therapists and staff about our son’s needs, we felt genuine compassion in their words. They listened; we felt heard! There is no greater gift you can give to special needs parents than the feeling of being heard and understood.
Shane has only been at Miriam School for four months and he is already showing remarkable progress. Shane enjoys telling us about his day. He loves talking about all the new friends he’s made! He no longer feels isolated or judged. Miriam School put the twinkle back in our son’s eyes. They recognize Shane’s full potential and are always there to help him navigate through the challenges he still faces. We would like to thank the teachers, therapists and staff for all of their hard work and dedication. We are beyond grateful. We truly believe Miriam School is more than a school. It’s a community, one we feel very honored to be a part of.
-Submitted by Jessica Baer
I will never forget the day that our neurologist told me our son had Autism. He observed Michael, asked some questions and said, “Your son has Autism. He will never tell you he loves you. He will never be independent and you need to accept that he will live with you the rest of his life.” As the doctor walked out the door with our hopes and dreams for our first born son, we began our journey to prove him wrong.
Michael attended early childhood classes in one school district, but moved to another district for kindergarten through third grade which proved to be a very rocky. I tried working with the school’s staff, but it seemed as if I had to fight for any service that was needed. When there was finally a routine and things were on track, the school would pull his paraprofessional and cut back on his “minutes.”
There was so much potential inside Michael and I realized we had to find a school that could teach to his strengths and shore up his weaknesses. A late night internet search found Miriam Learning Center’s website and we soon enrolled him in their after-school program for social skills. This really helped Michael!
Thanks to the outpouring of support, which included everything from garage sales and raffle tickets to a small trivia night with our community, family and friends, Michael enrolled in 4th grade in 2014 at Miriam School. The boy who loved learning but dreaded attending school because of past experiences, was coming back within just a few short weeks of being at Miriam. Though he still expressed some typical autistic behaviors, they became less and less and eventually stopped altogether.
Michael is now in 7th grade at Miriam School and doing great! I no longer dread getting “the phone call” like when he was in public school. I trust the teachers and staff to do what is in the best interest of my child, academically and socially. The small class size and incredible staff have made a huge difference for Michael. Miriam’s personalized approach to learning has been the key to unlocking my son’s potential.
Since coming to Miriam, I have seen so many positive changes in Michael. Thanks to cooking classes, Michael eats a variety of foods that were once a sensory problem for him. He’s even helping in our home kitchen with chores. Most importantly, Michael can now advocate for himself. He can step back and say, “I need a break, or the occupational therapy/OT room, or I just need more help.” And yes, Michael can tell us he loves us, and comprehend what that means.
We know that Michael is now getting the therapies he needs, as well as an excellent education that will help him succeed not only in school, but in life. The teachers, therapists, and administration really know how to support our son. It is truly a partnership between parents and school.
The past four years have been full of sacrifices, but we are happy to make them because we know that academically, physically, and socially Miriam saved our son. Miriam School has placed the future we seek for Michael within reach.
-Submitted by Misti Schwaller
I will never forget my son John’s graduation from Miriam School in 2013. During his eighth grade year, my husband passed away after a long illness. At the ceremony a special announcement was made that John’s fellow classmates were gifting Miriam School with a brick paver to honor his father’s memory. This had so much meaning for our family and represented the compassion that everyone at Miriam School showed to John and our family during this difficult time.
John first came to Miriam in 2009 in fourth grade mostly due to anxiety over school. He was diagnosed with learning disabilities and auditory processing issues, and later Aspergers. Soon
after John got to Miriam, he began to thrive academically and especially socially. John made many great friends at Miriam and still keeps in touch with several of them today.
John loved so many things about going to school at Miriam! He really enjoyed the sensory breaks in the occupational therapy room and all the great hands-on learning projects. He fondly remembers
writing a story with Mr. Zapf about his favorite action heroes. But more than anything he really
learned how to advocate for himself. Miriam taught John to ask for what he wants in an
appropriate way and gave him confidence.
Shortly after graduating from Miriam, we moved to Seattle where we had family. John recently graduated from high school and I am proud of all he has accomplished including working at an internship program with Boeing. John is great with his hands and may pursue a career in autotech.
Next year he will attend a transition program at a local community college and we feel good about his future.
I want others to know that everyone at Miriam School really embraces both your child and the whole family. John got so much personal attention and we loved the family atmosphere. We have so many great memories at Miriam. I hope other families in need can experience all that Miriam School has to offer.
–Submitted by Kate Hettiger
Our son Zander is a charming young man, complete with a bright smile that lights up a room. Now a sophomore at Miriam Academy, he is an eager learner and loves to share his knowledge with all around him. He is a true little professor, often a classic trait of his Aspergers.
Since Zander was eight years old, he has dealt with the challenges of a high IQ, coupled with executive function disorder that lends itself to the inability to organize things or thoughts. Zander had always attended public school, but as he got older he had a harder time fitting in with his peers despite desperately wanting to be accepted.
By middle school he had little social life and spent lunch in the library playing video games. His difficulty working in groups frustrated those assigned to work with him. His frustration or disappointment was not age-appropriate, further setting him apart from his peers.
After Zander’s IEP (individualized education plan) meeting for public high school, we left feeling extremely worried about his ability to adapt. The next day I bumped into an acquaintance who happened to be a mother with a student at Miriam School. She listened to our worries and mentioned that Miriam was beginning its own high school. We attended the first meeting about the Academy and left feeling very hopeful.
When Zander visited Miriam Academy for the first time, his reaction was without a doubt positive. We watched him being accepted by both peers and teachers. We knew this was the answer for Zander’s next four academic years.
This inaugural year at Miriam has been positive for our whole family. No more fighting to complete homework or lengthy assignments. For the first time in his life, homework requires little to no parental guidance! His amazing teachers continue to engage and help him overcome his challenges. Zander has become an integral part of student life, which extends to his social life at school and beyond.
A perfect example of how the students and staff came together is the creation of the school baseball team. In the past, Zander was cut from three baseball teams and we never expected him to be a part of an organized sport again. But the magic of Miriam made it possible for him to be on a team and he has loved every minute!
All of Zander’s gifts and deficits have been embraced during his first year at Miriam. The staff sees the whole package he has to offer and are enthusiastic about his future. They see Zander’s potential and have set him on the path that makes attending a four-year college an option. As parents, our outlook changed from just getting Zander by to a belief in a bright and successful future. We will forever be thankful that a place like Miriam Academy exists.
-Submitted by Kerri Alper
From the minute we walked in the door, we knew everyone at Miriam cared about our son and would do everything they could to help him. It has been a 10-year journey to help Sean and we are proud to say he is doing great with a lot of help and support from the great people at Miriam.
We first found Miriam Learning Center when Sean was just three years old. Sean’s early childhood advocate advised us to look into Miriam as a resource to help address his developmental delays. Now almost 10 years later, Sean continues to benefit from services he gets from the Learning Center. As one of their first clients, I have seen so much growth and development in both Sean and the Miriam Learning Center–they have come a long way!
Sean was diagnosed at two years old because he was not talking at his age level and behind in gross and fine motor development. At three years old, Sean began at Miriam with summer camp and occupational therapy. Over the years, he has taken advantage of occupational therapy services, social group classes and camps that were sports oriented, as well as individualized tutoring. The Learning Center also did academic assessment testing to help us find an appropriate school for him. Sean continues to receive math tutoring assistance from his wonderful Miriam tutor Cyndi Carter. All this has helped to shape our son into a happy, confident boy!
Today Sean is entering sixth grade at Kirk Day School and doing great. I credit Miriam and
the staff with giving him the social skills he needed to make friends and advocate for himself,
along with academic support. This year he gave a speech at his school for Abilities Day, and spoke
in front of the school with confidence. This was a big achievement that would not have been possible without the support from Miriam. We are very fortunate that Miriam has been here for Sean and our family all these years.
I would tell other parents who have a child who is struggling in school and needs extra help to reach out to Miriam. Like Sean they can stay in their current school, but still take advantage of all Miriam’s resources to reach their maximum potential. Without a doubt, Miriam has helped Sean on his journey to be the best he can be!
-Submitted by Therese Myers
When I was in high school, I wanted to be an editor. I’d never even considered teaching until one day my own art teacher observed me explaining a project to another student who’d been absent and missed the instructions. He paused, looked right at me and said, “You would make a great teacher.”
When I left St. Louis to attend college in Chicago, I took his advice and started my journey as an educator. Out of college, my first job was teaching Language Arts in a Chicago Public School. It was challenging work. I especially enjoyed working with and watching my co-teacher who was in charge of making modifications for our students with IEPs and unique learning needs. Later, I found myself at another school teaching a class with no special education support in which 60% of the students had learning disabilities. I was determined to give every student the opportunity to learn in my classroom. For each lesson, I made three differentiated assessments and modified every piece of reading, incorporating as much hands-on learning as I could. Turns out, I enjoyed every minute of it. After that year concluded, I decided to return to school and earn certification to teach Special Education.
After teaching in Chicago for ten years, I decided to return to St. Louis – my home town. I found a job as a resource teacher at a charter school downtown where I worked with inspiring, dedicated teachers who made the most out of incredibly limited resources. We shared a wonderful Occupational Therapist among the three different campuses. Students at our school were lucky to get 30 minutes of OT per week. These OT services, along with speech/language services and tutoring, were all provided by staff from a place I’d never heard of called Miriam Learning Center. One day I was talking to an MLC tutor, Terry Beck, and she was telling me all about Miriam School and the incredible OT room, dedicated teachers, and small class sizes. I was so intrigued by the description of such a place that I sent in an application even though I wasn’t planning on looking for a new job. After a serendipitous mix up involving my Chicago area code and the family member of a Miriam student, I was delighted to be granted an interview.
During my interview in the library, a summer camp student glided by on a scooter, waving and smiling at us, followed by a tiny boy bouncing on a hippity hop ball. It was such a fun, happy little moment, and no one else in the room seemed fazed a bit. I immediately thought that if seeing kids on hippity hops and scooters smile and wave as they pass your window is such a common occurrence here that no one feels they need to mention it, this must be one of the most safe, welcoming, and fun environments for any child – let alone a child with a learning disability, anxiety, or autism. I knew right then that Miriam School was the place for me.
I have just started my third year teaching at Miriam and have transitioned to teaching on our middle school team, but I still hold fast to that belief. That tutor was right – the Miriam School staff is one of the most dedicated and kindest I have ever worked with. I enjoy going to work every day and have made lifelong friends. And I could fill pages and pages with accolades about how much I love our amazing students. This year, like every year, I found myself eager to return to school, having missed the students and the delightful chaos and community of Miriam. This is really an amazing place, and I feel so lucky to be part of it.
-Submitted by Leslie Lockett, Miriam middle school teacher
As a volunteer for more than 20 years at the Miriam Switching Post, I have loved seeing the evolution and growth of both the store and Miriam’s mission to help children. What keeps me volunteering every Tuesday is both my love of antiques and people. It has been very rewarding!
I first began as a volunteer here in 1993 after retiring from the Defense Mapping Agency where I worked for many years. I was also the first women to serve as a board member for their credit union for 14 years. I knew the manager at the store in Clayton on Forsythe Blvd. who originally asked me to volunteer. My adventure with Miriam began some 24 years ago and I have no plans to retire anytime soon.
My duties over the years have included everything from pricing and research, to estate sales and helping customers. In the days before the Internet, we did all of our research from books and we had our own library to help us.
I am always amazed at the incredible donations we get and what people buy. Once we had a huge wing back chair that I didn’t think would sell, but one day a very large man walked in and bought it on the spot! You just never know what is going to sell and that’s what makes it so much fun.
I have been at three locations of the Switching Post including the store in Clayton, the Big Bend store in Maplewood, and now our store in Brentwood. This location gives us the space we need and customers can easily find our merchandise.
I just love the mission of Miriam and how we help children at both the Miriam School and the new Miriam Academy high school. The students really get the attention they need at Miriam.
Over the years, I have collected some wonderful items and my home is full of great buys from the Switching Post. One of my favorite things to collect is chairs. I have at least eight chairs from the store including my kitchen table chairs which perfectly match my table. I also collect elephants with the trunks up (for good luck) and costume jewelry. I am wearing (in the photo) one of my favorite necklaces that I bought at the Switching Post some 20 years ago.
At 86-years-young, volunteering at the Switching Post keeps me moving, along with yard work and planting flowers, going to the theater, and my family and friends. I have made some wonderful long-term friendships through the Switching Post, and I love the volunteers and customers too. It’s truly a special place!
-Ellie Mandel, Miriam Switching Post Volunteer