Nahed Chapman dies; created school to help refugee students succeed

    Mrs Chapman

    Nahed Chapman, principal of what is now called the New American Preparatory Academy, gets a hug in April 2010 from David Sindamziga, 11, originally of Burundi. Stephanie S. Cordle scordle@post-dispatch.com

    By Elisa Crouch ecrouch@post-dispatch.com 314-340-8119

    As director of bilingual programs in St. Louis Public Schools, Nahed Chapman was often inspired and heartbroken by the plight of refugee children who resettled in St. Louis. But few things frustrated her more than knowing the city’s school system wasn’t equipping them for success.

    So in 2008, Mrs. Chapman pitched a plan to create a school for refugee students — one that would better help them adjust to a new culture, a new language and the classroom. She won approval from Superintendent Kelvin Adams, who had just arrived in the district. And for the last four years, the New American Preparatory Academy — originally called the International Welcome School — has improved graduation rates of new immigrants and eased their transition to life in the United States.

    Mrs. Chapman, 59, died Friday (Dec. 13, 2013) of heart failure after an eight-year battle with lymphoma, her husband, Dean Chapman, said.

    As founding principal of the academy, Mrs. Chapman worked tirelessly to create a place that not only supported immigrant children, but also their families. She worked to make the school a place where children could overcome culture shock and language barriers, where Somalis, Iraqis, Russians and Bosnians didn’t stand out as foreigners.

    More than 220 students from 23 countries attended the school last year. Most were forced to flee their countries because of war or political conflict. Some arrived in St. Louis straight from refugee camps. Many had never had formal education.

    “Some have never held a pencil,” Mrs. Chapman told the Post-Dispatch in 2010.

    The New American Preparatory Academy, 1530 Grand Boulevard, offers pre-kindergarten through ninth grade, plus adult education classes. Students transition into a regular classroom environment when they are ready.

    Opening and operating the academy was Mrs. Chapman’s dream,” her husband said. “That was, to her, her crowning success. That meant so much to her.”

    Adams called Mrs. Chapman’s death “a huge loss to the district.”

    “She did a lot of work to make sure the kids were supported,” Adams said. “She never stopped.”

    Mrs. Chapman continued working despite cancer treatments that were weakening her body.

    She was an immigrant herself, having grown up in Cairo. She received a full scholarship to the American University in Cairo, where she earned a master’s degree in teaching English to speakers of other languages.

    She arrived in the United States in 1982 already fluent in English. She had just married Dean Chapman, a Marine whom she met while teaching English in Cairo. They had two sons.

    “One of her greatest dreams was to have grandchildren,” Dean Chapman said. One of their sons is to be married in February.

    In 1996, Mrs. Chapman was hired as parent liaison in the city school system. She determined whether parents needed help learning “survival English.” Her drive to help immigrant children and their families consumed her, those who knew her said.

    “She was concerned about more than the minds of her students, but their hearts,” said Anna Crosslin, chief executive of the International Institute. “She understood that resettlement is a lifelong process.”

    In addition to her husband, survivors include her mother, Hoda El-Adly of Heliopolis, Egypt; a brother, Akeel El-Adly of Dubai, UAE; two sisters, Shireen Mohammed of Heliopolis, and Maha Sullivan of Wilder, Idaho; and two sons, Nur Chapman of Albany, Ga., and Nadr Chapman of Ellisville.

    A funeral will be at 9:30 a.m. Wednesday at Kutis Chapel, 2906 Gravois Avenue, St. Louis. Burial will be in Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery.