Education Spotlight: Nahed Chapman New American Academy

SLCG Teaching Artist, Mark Akin, working with students at Nahed Chapman New American Academy

SLCG Teaching Artist, Mark Akin, working with students at Nahed Chapman New American Academy

Nahed Chapman New American Academy (NCNAA) is home to one of our strongest Guitar Horizons education programs. Part of St. Louis Public Schools, the school serves as a preparatory program for refugee students to transition from their home countries to the United States. Middle school students spend up to two years at NCNAA before enrolling at their zoned middle or high school. During those two years, students learn English as a second language, adjust to life in US public schools, and now can learn guitar! 

NCNAA’s classroom music teacher, Ms. Ellen Husley, works with SLCG Teaching Artist, Mark Akin, to conduct the program. She shared a few words about her experience teaching guitar: 

“It has been my privilege to be the music teacher at Nahed Chapman New American Academy (NCNAA) since the 2016-2017 school year.  Our students are new to America and stay at the school up to two years. I am always amazed at what they accomplish in their time with us. With the help of Mark Akin, middle school students have been learning how to play the guitar for the last two years.  This year we are teaching each class for one quarter, so in nine weeks the students go from learning how to hold a guitar to reading and playing memorized music on a stage for an audience. Our students at NCNAA are remarkable and resilient, and it is an honor to get to be a part of their day and experience music with them.”

On Tuesday, October 9, the guitar class at Chapman Academy performed their first concert. After 9 weeks of instruction, the sixteen played three pieces under the steady direction of Mark Akin. The performance was in tune, with steady tempo and greeted with rousing applause by the student body which filled the auditorium.

We spoke with two of the participants, both in seventh grade: a young lady named Noor, from Iraq, and a young man Hilal, from Afghanistan. 

Noor has been in the US for just a year and a half. She learned English only upon arrival, primarily from a friend she made, but her comprehension was remarkable. Having had no prior music experience, she told me that "at first I was worried," but that "after the first week I was no longer nervous." She found Meditation the most difficult to learn, as people next to her were playing sounds different from her part. Her favorite piece was Floating in the Cosmos, saying "it makes me feel happy." And after the performance she felt “excited." 

Hilal has also been in the US just a year and a half. He had learned some English in school prior to arrival. His understanding was also good. He said that guitar "was hard at first," but by the second day he" learned how to do things, and from there it started to get easy." He recounted that on the morning of the performance he was thinking “It’s going to be a great day!” He was nervous before the performance, but afterwards he was so happy that they all "played as a team, and we all played together.” He said of Meditation that “It made me relax,” and that Blue Magic—his favorite piece--“made you want to go and dance.”

William Ash