BY BART LAWRENCE — On December 20, nearly 200 people gathered at Hyattsville Elementary School to celebrate the life of Stephanie Chapman. Nine days earlier, on December 11, Stephanie, a beloved family member, teacher, colleague and friend, died following a six-year battle with ovarian cancer. She was 36.
At the memorial, people remembered Stephanie’s love of books, teaching, tennis, the outdoors, her dog Twyla, and a student’s joy after reading a first book. Students and colleagues played music, sang and read poetry. Friends laughed over stories of Stephanie’s determination, habitual buying of children’s books (she left thousands of dollars worth of books to HES) and her belief in the superiority of reading over math (as relayed by her good friend and former HES math specialist, Shari Sternberg). And, of course, there were tears.
Stephanie was born September 20, 1975, in North Adams, Mass. After earning a Bachelor of Science in early childhood education and interdisciplinary studies from the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts in 1997, she volunteered as a reading specialist with AmeriCorps in George, Wash., and later served as an elementary-level reading teacher in Bennington, Vt.
In 2001, she accepted a second-grade teaching position with the American School of Guatemala in Guatemala City, during which time she learned a second language.
She returned to the U.S. in 2002, moving to Maryland to teach in the dual-language program at Cesar Chavez Elementary School in Chillum. Stephanie received the Washington Post and Embassy of Spain’s International Teaching Fellowship, which allowed her to study education in Spain.
In 2006 she joined the staff at Hyattsville Elementary School as a reading specialist. At HES, Stephanie seemed tireless. In addition to initiating many literacy programs, she shared strategies with parents to help their children on the Maryland State Assessment, provided professional development to the school staff on reading strategies, wrote curricula, edited the school newsletter, acted as a test coordinator, and much more.
While at HES, she earned her Master’s of Science in education from Walden University and the prestigious National Board Certification. HES Principal Jeanne Washburn described Stephanie as “the main gear that kept the school running.” In a letter sent home with the students, her colleagues described her as an “outstanding educator.”
Yet, this brief retelling of her generosity, her accomplishments, her adventurousness, the milestones in her life, and her relentless inspiration of students and colleagues fails to paint a complete picture of Stephanie.
Perhaps her most remarkable gift was her smile. Nearly every day during arrival and dismissal, parents and guardians could expect to see Stephanie’s smile amid the rolling sea of children. That smile, especially for those uninitiated to the pandemonium of childhood hordes, delivered comfort, assurance and joy
Though we’ve lost Stephanie, we will always have her. On any given school day, watch the students stream from the school, smiling for their love of learning and having learned, and there you’ll see Stephanie.
Bart Lawrence is president of the HES-PTA. Donations may be made in Stephanie’s memory to the Ovarian Cancer Research Fund at www.ocrf.org, or the Washington Animal Rescue League at www.warl.org.