Monthly Archives: November 2017

Initiating a Circle of Support for Students Early and Often

Student support services are critical to student success. At The Biome, through our in-house special education program, we have the ability to provide a variety of student support services such as: reading intervention, occupational therapy, special education instruction, behavior intervention and speech-language services. This year, we had the opportunity to bring our speech-language services in-house with our new speech-language pathologist, Emily Schiltz, joining the Biome staff. In addition to having earned her master’s degree in Communications Sciences and Disorders from Saint Louis University, she has more than 15 years of experience working with elementary school-age children, including 10 years working with students at public charter schools in the city.

Having a professional speech-language pathologist on staff, combined with the Biome School’s commitment to putting students’ needs first, has many special advantages.

Those who require special services can be diagnosed, assessed and begin receiving the services they require much sooner than at many other public schools across the St. Louis region where the process can take up to 3-4 months. “As soon as a child is identified as needing individualized attention, the Biome is prepared to begin the testing and evaluation necessary to begin providing services. We have internal resources and the flexibility to avoid unnecessary delays caused by waiting for multi-level reviews and approvals,” said Emily. Most recently, the entire process, from the first point of verified concern to the child receiving services, took less than 3 weeks for a Biome student.

In addition, those who are receiving speech and language therapy receive a lot of support from other teachers and administrators within the Biome environment. Emily shared, “Because the staff is so small, so responsive, and so student-focused, everyone will stop what they’re doing when they make their way back to the student’s classroom to listen to the student practice and share in their achievements. These positive interactions allow students to build their confidence and take pride in that others know they are making progress. These interactions also help other adults in the building become more aware of a student’s error patterns, allowing them to communicate more effectively and allowing them to help students practice even when they are not in speech therapy sessions.”

The special education resources of the Biome School will have a lasting impact on students. Research shows that targeted, early, clinical intervention makes a significant impact. When supports are in place, students are able to catch up with their peers much faster, close skills gaps much faster, and reduce costs long-term. Quickly obtaining access to intervention services is essential in assisting children to thrive academically, socially and emotionally.

But with limited financial support from the state of Missouri, funding special services is challenging, especially as a public charter school where we receive approximately 25% less in per-pupil funding compared to traditional public schools. Your support is needed to help offset the high cost of special education and speech-language therapy services so the Biome School can continue to provide the individualized attention that can help ensure every child has the opportunity to be successful.

To learn more about how to support and create a lasting impact in the life of a Biome student visit:

Launching a Domino Effect of Support for the Outdoor Learning Center

At The Biome, it is often our dedicated volunteers who act as catalysts, initiating connections that have the potential to create a long-lasting ripple effect.

Tom Cooke, a member of the Biome Foundation and long-time supporter of the Youth Learning Center, is one of these catalysts. Recently, he brought a special collaboration to the Biome School. In addition to being an accomplished, award-winning executive with a background in public affairs, marketing, and crisis communications, Tom also is active with several other civic and not-for-profit groups and organizations.

He recently identified a special opportunity for a collaboration between the Biome School and the Veiled Prophet Foundation, the philanthropic arm of the 139-year-old organization best known for producing family-friendly events like Fair St Louis and the annual VP Parade. The foundation has provided funding and tens of thousands of hours of volunteer hours for dozens of local community service initiatives.

While the Veiled Prophet Foundation does not fund entire projects, it does provide the initial financial support that’s necessary to launch each project it selects. It also identifies other funding sources to contribute to the overall cost of the project and arranges in-kind services through the diverse network of VP members. Lastly, the VP taps into its members and their families to volunteer their talents in the construction and final installation of each project. The result is a ripple effect that brings together more people and resources and increases public awareness.

This describes exactly what is happening with the Biome School since Tom initiated the collaboration between the school and the Veiled Prophet Foundation to create our new outdoor learning center, which will be unveiled later this fall.

Not only will the new outdoor learning center be an outstanding resource for our students, the collaboration also generated exposure and awareness of the school to a wider audience of community leaders and influencers who share our goal of empowering students by providing them with the tools they need to reach their fullest potential.

Just as a commitment from Tom as an individual turned into an exceptional opportunity to benefit our entire student body for years to come, volunteering at any level for the Biome can have a similar “butterfly effect.” Your individual involvement will have a bigger impact than you can imagine.

We invite you to consider how you can ignite your own butterfly effect – where a single action can initiate a widespread ripple effect:

  • If you are interested in having a hands-on involvement, join us for the Outdoor Learning Center’s final build day on Saturday, November 18th. Sign up to volunteer today by completing our online form.
  • If you would like to engage directly with our learners, sign up to become a volunteer in the classroom using our online form.
  • If you would like to share your expertise, inquire about board service by contacting Mark Kent at

Engaging our Ecosystem to Build a Strong Literacy Foundation

A Biome (noun): is an ecosystem that includes all of the living things in a given area, interacting with each other, and with their non-living environments, all together as an ecological unit.

At The Biome School, our approach focuses on engaging every aspect of our ecosystem in order to support student learning. When a system is designed based on the needs of our students, we create a strong, enriching environment for learning. Evidence of this system’s efficacy is seen through The Biome’s holistic approach to literacy.

Mrs. Laura Cortner, Reading Specialist at The Biome, brings more than 11 years of experience in early childhood education and literacy. She emphasizes, “Literacy is the foundation for all subjects. It is core to building skills in other subjects and engaging in project-based learning. In order to best support learners, we all must be active in creating a literacy-rich environment.”

At The Biome School, we implement a balanced comprehensive literacy program that meets the individual needs of every student. Within a reading and writing workshop model, students experience whole group, small group, and individualized instruction regularly. Small group work may include guided reading groups, literature circles, or strategy groups. Teachers organize instruction so every child regularly receives direct, explicit reading instruction as his/her level.

Research shows that this explicit, individualized approach is critical. By 3 years of age, there is a 30 million-word gap between children from the wealthiest and poorest families. Two-thirds of kindergartners show up their first day already behind national literacy benchmarks. What is important to recognize is that children lack the opportunities to interact with rich language, it’s not just throwing words at children, but making sure they hear new concepts, things of interest to them, so their brains make those connections earlier (Sparks, 2015).

What is important about The Biome’s ecosystem approach is that it recognizes the value of community involvement in supporting literacy – we know it takes more to adequately support and meet the varied needs of learners. Additional integrations of literacy that all took place in just the last month included: parent education nights, curriculum days, parent-teacher conferences, literacy mornings, and our scholastic book fair. The parent education and curriculum days helped equip parents in promoting a literacy-rich environment and learn how to adopt reading strategies and practices at home and they encouraged parents to be positive models for reading. The scholastic book fair raised funds to allow us to purchase needed reading materials. The literacy mornings encouraged students to practice and receive direct attention and support from family and volunteers. Last, 50 students benefit from direct reading intervention, which provides them with 120 extra minutes of explicit, direct instruction every week with our reading specialist.

Not only do these multiple integrations support literacy skill development, but it also helps students to foster a positive relationship with reading. Success is not just measured in scores, but also in hearing students use positive self-identifying language. They say, “Mrs. Cortner, Mrs. Cortner, I know because as a reader, I would…” Mrs. Cortner echoed this reality, “ When they recognize themselves as readers, they become readers.”

We invite you to be apart of the literacy ecosystem at The Biome. Any level of involvement, from joining us for a literacy morning or helping to fund classroom libraries, your support strengths our ecosystem and contributes to students building a strong foundation of literacy – a skillset that will serve them their entire lives.

To contribute to The Biome ecosystem, consider taking part in one of the following activities today:

  • If you are interested in supporting the literacy program or making a donation to support student learning, please go to:
  • If you would like to engage directly with our learners, sign up to volunteer at our upcoming Literacy Morning on December 1st using our online form.