Category Archives: My Miriam Story

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

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 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

Ellie Mandel, 20+ year volunteer, Miriam Switching Post

As a volunteer for more than 20 years at the Miriam Switching Post, I have loved seeing the evolution and growth of both the store and Miriam’s mission to help children.  What keeps me volunteering every Tuesday is both my love of antiques and people.  It has been very rewarding!

I first began as a volunteer here in 1993 after retiring from the Defense Mapping Agency where I worked for many years.  I was also the first women to serve as a board member for their credit union for 14 years.  I knew the manager at the store in Clayton on Forsythe Blvd. who originally asked me to volunteer.  My adventure with Miriam began some 24 years ago and I have no plans to retire anytime soon.

My duties over the years have included everything from pricing and research, to estate sales and helping customers.  In the days before the Internet, we did all of our research from books and we had our own library to help us.

I am always amazed at the incredible donations we get and what people buy.  Once we had a huge wing back chair that I didn’t think would sell, but one day a very large man walked in and bought it on the spot!  You just never know what is going to sell and that’s what makes it so much fun.

I have been at three locations of the Switching Post including the store in Clayton, the Big Bend store in Maplewood, and now our store in Brentwood.  This location gives us the space we need and customers can easily find our merchandise.

I just love the mission of Miriam and how we help children at both the Miriam School and the new Miriam Academy high school.  The students really get the attention they need at Miriam.

Over the years, I have collected some wonderful items and my home is full of great buys from the Switching Post.  One of my favorite things to collect is chairs.  I have at least eight chairs from the store including my kitchen table chairs which perfectly match my table.  I also collect elephants with the trunks up (for good luck) and costume jewelry.  I am wearing (in the photo) one of my favorite necklaces that I bought at the Switching Post some 20 years ago.

At 86-years-young, volunteering at the Switching Post keeps me moving, along with yard work and planting flowers, going to the theater, and my family and friends.  I have made some wonderful long-term friendships through the Switching Post, and I love the volunteers and customers too.  It’s truly a special place!

-Ellie Mandel, Miriam Switching Post Volunteer


As a senior at Bishop Du Bourg High School, I recently had the opportunity to come back to Miriam School for my senior service hours.  I was a student at Miriam from first through eighth grade, so it was great to return to see many of the same teachers and traditions still in place.  

For my senior project, I got to work with students in a variety of ways including: helping students stay on task, math, reading, classroom projects and playing outside.  I enjoyed working with the students because it reminded me of when I was a student at Miriam and it also gave me a chance to give back to such a special place that is a big part of my life.

It was very meaningful for me to be back at Miriam for many reasons.  The school played an important role not only in my educational experience, but also as the place where I grew up.  It struck me that very little has changed and I take comfort in the fact that almost everything that was part of my childhood and early teen years has remained a constant to this day.

Some of my favorite memories of being a student at Miriam include class projects, going to extended day, eating pizza on Fridays, and enjoying “Fun Friday” where, at the end of the school week, students could participate in various free-time activities.

I also liked meeting all kinds of new people at Miriam where I made a number of friends.  Miriam gave me the social skills I needed to learn to get along with people of different backgrounds, personalities, attitudes, and challenges/struggles.  This understanding about myself has served me well in high school.

Miriam teachers taught me valuable life lessons in a way that worked with my disabilities and learning challenges that no other educational institution could have ever done.  Teachers taught me about appropriate social skills, helped me out when I was struggling with any subject, and treated me with kindness and respect.  I had every resource at hand to help me succeed, graduate from high school and go on to pursue my dream of being a civil engineer.

-John Deasy, Miriam School alumnus and senior service volunteer








As soon as I walked through the doors at Miriam School, I knew I had found the right place for my RobertJonessons Logan and Isaac.  Prior to finding Miriam, the daily lives of my wife and I were filled with a multitude of concerns for our sons.  No matter which school they attended, we were plagued by one problem after another.  After much research and hope for a solution, I discovered the answers to my prayers: Miriam School.

Once our sons started at Miriam School, they were once again happy to go to school.  My wife and I stopped worrying about our children’s safety, learning challenges, and social difficulties.  It seemed as if a day did not go by where the boys were accomplishing new things.

During their years at Miriam, the School gave Logan and Isaac the tools needed for them to advocate for themselves and successfully return to a traditional school setting.  The small class size gave each boy the individual attention and nurturing environment they needed.  As a result, their math, reading and social-skills improved dramatically.

Isaac left Miriam after the 5th grade to attend St. Ambrose School and Logan graduated from Miriam School and transitioned smoothly to St. Mary’s High School.  Both boys are doing well today.

My family and I owe a lot to Miriam School and I recently joined the Board of Directors as a way to give back.  I will never forget how all the teachers supported the philosophy of getting my sons to believe in themselves.  They knew that the teachers, staff, and faculty truly cared about them.

Without the expertise and guidance we received at Miriam, I hate to ponder what would have become of our sons.  The school gave us peace of mind, hope, love, and a wonderful foundation for each of them.

-Robert Jones, Miriam Foundation Board Member and Alumni Parent







When I think back about life before Miriam, I see fond memories. However, along with those happy ethanwmemories, I also see not so good ones. Before Miriam, I was a bit of a social outcast. Not only did I not fit in with other kids, I didn’t know how to make friends. Academically I was fine but it felt like something was missing. Due to my learning needs, school was hard and even though those needs were accommodated, it still felt like school was not really working for me.

My parents recognized my learning differences and were constantly trying to help. When they thought nothing would work, they were told about Miriam School. We heard it was a safe haven where children with learning disabilities could learn and thrive. We were eager to find out more.

When I first came to Miriam for summer camp, I was greeted with warm, happy faces and children bouncing through the hallways on hippity hops.  However, it was still a big change for me.  Miriam School is a very different kind of place!

On my first day of sixth grade I began attending Miriam full-time. Due to the open, accepting environment I quickly found my place and made many friends. I encountered a few bumps throughout the year, but overall it was a good experience. Now I am currently 12-years-old and in seventh grade at Miriam. Although most of my friends have gone on to high school, it is still a pleasant experience.

Miriam’s hands-on learning approach has made school very exciting and fun!  Subjects that I found hard and frustrating like math, I now look forward to.  I really liked our projects including the Global Monster Project and the Little Free Library, which taught me valuable skills like leadership, teamwork and much more.

For anyone who doesn’t know about the Miriam School, or may be scared of change, keep in mind that in the long run it will help students like me who learn differently. I have learned that different does not mean bad.

Overall, Miriam has helped me become the best person I can be. I would recommend this school to anyone who feels like their learning needs are not being met.

-Ethan W., Current 7th grade student













I was a senior at Webster Groves High School the first time I walked through the doors of the Miriamschlepp School in 1983. I was there for a class, Community Campus, designed to help high school students explore career opportunities. I will never forget on the day of orientation how the person showing me around was so positive. I felt like I belonged right from the start. I was pretty shy at that point in my life, and I was struggling to find my purpose in the world. I was assigned to two teachers, Heather Howe and Elizabeth Hodge. They both quickly became positive role models for me and encouraged my interest in becoming a special education teacher. I can honestly say that those afternoons at the Miriam School changed the trajectory of my life.

After high school, I attended Missouri State University and received my BS in Special Education. I continued to work at the Miriam School summer camp all through college, and I would always come visit the kids on my breaks. With the encouragement of Heather Howe, I went on to get my M.ED in School Counseling at the University of Southern Mississippi. I taught students with learning disabilities and behavior disorders for several years before taking a position as a school counselor. I worked until the birth of my first child and then became a stay-at-home mom. My three girls are now teenagers; two in college and one in high school.

My passion for helping children with special needs is still a huge part of my life. I have recently written two books: Eden and Her Happy and Henry and His Manners. I call them Emotion Belly Books because the characters all have visible emotions in their bellies. The purpose of my books is to help kids better understand their emotions, as well as the emotions of those around them.

I am so thankful for the direction that the Miriam School pointed me in and I will be forever grateful for the experience I gained during my time with the students and teachers at this special place.

-Tracy Schelpphorst, Former Miriam School volunteer and author
Find out more about Tracy’s books here