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Middle school proves to be the toughest time for students struggling with learning disabilities

Aine O'Connor | St. Louis Public Radio

Miriam School, Miriam Learning Center and Miriam Switching Post all exist to serve a singular purpose: helping to educate children with complex learning disabilities. On Thursday, a student, parent and the head of school joined “St. Louis on the Air” host Don Marsh in discussing raising a child with a learning disability.

“Some kids come when they’re very young and stay two or three years because they’ve gotten the compensatory skills they need,” said Joan Holland, the head of school at Miriam. “Some come from kindergarten to eighth grade. Many kids come for middle school; it tends to be a difficult time for everyone. Parents come to us for middle school so they have a bridge between elementary and high school. It is safe.”

Emma Wallace is an eighth grade student at Miriam School. She started at the school in sixth grade, after being diagnosed with ADHD and struggling with anxiety issues. She is now president of the student council at Miriam. Her mother, Melissa, a nurse practitioner, also joined the show.

“Emma, she’s such a fighter, and she was achieving in elementary school but struggling to do so,” Melissa said. “We recognized she needed something beyond a traditional learning environment.”

Melissa said that a specialized learning environment, such as class seating on balls for movement, small class sizes and occupational therapy breaks. “It made it a safe place for her to learn and to grow. Because every kid there is working on something, you’re not dealing with the judgment you’d get in a traditional middle school setting, which is hard anyway,” Melissa said.

“I can’t tell you the feeling of being able to drop off your child at school and drive away without that heavy feeling like, ‘what’s going to happen today?’”

Each year, Miriam School serves 96 children pre-kindergarten through eighth grade. The school also offers $1 million annually in tuition assistance for families with financial need. Miriam Learning Center students, an after-school program for more than 700 students, also have the opportunity to receive financial assistance. Those scholarships are partly raised through sales at Miriam Switching Post, which accepts donations and sells them to benefit the Miriam Scholarship Fund.

Miriam School ends at the eighth grade and although leaving that environment may be a little daunting, Emma says she’s ready for the challenge.

“I’ve learned that I have to move on,” Emma said. “I’ve learned that this won’t be my parents and my school, I will be involved, and that’s a really good thing. … I would want to go to high school, too, at Miriam, but I think if I stayed longer, I would get even more attached and I wouldn’t want to leave even more.”

"St. Louis on the Air" discusses issues and concerns facing the St. Louis area. The show is produced by Mary EdwardsAlex Heuer and Kelly Moffitt and hosted by veteran journalist Don Marsh. Follow us on Twitter and join the conversation at @STLonAir.

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Kelly Moffitt joined St. Louis Public Radio in 2015 as an online producer for St. Louis Public Radio's talk shows St. Louis on the Air.

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