From St. Louis Post-Dispatch:  It’s been more difficult than it should be for Joe Weis to teach physical education at Nahed Chapman New American Academy.

 Millstone Weber workers, left to right, Joe Baecht, laborer, James Dixon, superintendent, and Mark Rice, operator begin work on playing surface at Nahed Chapman New American Academy. 

Millstone Weber workers, left to right, Joe Baecht, laborer, James Dixon, superintendent, and Mark Rice, operator begin work on playing surface at Nahed Chapman New American Academy. 

Not only did he alone teach PE at the school of 400 refugee and immigrant children this year, but the school’s outdoor play area also looks like a dried riverbed. Its aged asphalt is laced with webs of cracks. The sun-bleached, gray ground is uneven and full of valleys, hills and gaping pits of gravel and dirt.

Three years ago, a high school student tripped on the playground and was taken to the hospital. Since then, there haven’t been any injuries.

“We’ve been blessed,” Principal Donnie Harris said.

A collection of people and groups in St. Louis are seeing to it that an artificial turf field gets built at Nahed Chapman this summer, for free.

St. Louis Public Schools has lacked money to build, maintain or renovate a simple school field for years, officials say.

The district at best has a “very slim maintenance and repair budget,” said Mary Houlihan, director of operations for the district.

“It really is that that field was not going to happen without this,” Houlihan said of the community effort.

Nahed Chapman, a complex in the 1500 block of South Grand Boulevard, is where refugee and immigrant children come to learn English and receive an American education — or, for many, any education — for the first time.

Many of their parents or relatives were killed in war or violence-ridden nations. Many of the students came to the U.S. alone. Many of them came here only to find that the people who were supposed to take them in were nowhere to be found.

 Pace Construction Co. milling machine at work on the playng surface. 

Pace Construction Co. milling machine at work on the playng surface. 

Harris estimates that about 70 percent of her students, who come from 41 countries, have been through severe trauma, stress or depression. Therapy is common at the school, and Harris is starting a “trauma-informed curriculum” in the coming school year.

Any chance for the students to get outside, play sports and forget about some of that stress, such as on this new field, brings Harris close to tears.

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