It started out as an idea from a couple of California State University, Northridge special education professors who were looking for a real-world way to demonstrate full inclusion of all children in a classroom.
Over the past 25 years, the CHIME Institute has grown into a nationally recognized program that includes an early childhood education component, a public charter K-8 school as well as a research and teaching demonstration center. It has been hailed by educators around the world as a model for inclusive education.
The institute is marking its 25th anniversary with a special celebration at the Woodland Hills Country Club on Friday, Oct. 30. The evening will include a ceremony to honor current CHIME parent and advocate, actress Amy Brenneman, former CHIME parent Rochelle Gerson, and long-time CHIME supporter and CSUN special education professor Deborah Chen for their contributions to the institute. Celebrity DJ Richard Blade of KROQ and SiriusXM Radio is serving as the night’s master of ceremonies.
Brenneman, who has two children attending CHIME’s K-8 public charter school, called the institute “a visionary community where individuals of varying abilities come together in an atmosphere of mutual respect and support.”
“Before we were enfolded by CHIME, and as my daughter’s cognitive differences were making themselves known, my family was isolated, worried and, quite frankly, scared of what the future held,” she said. “At CHIME, not only did both my children flourish, but my husband and I got to know other families who also previously felt isolated and worried. Together, we are challenging old beliefs and creating a bright future for our children and ourselves — the students, the parents and the committed educators who never say die and whose hearts blaze a trail for all of us.”
The CHIME Institute began as an early childhood education program on the CSUN campus. It grew out of a futile search faculty made for a school to which they could refer their students — one that had successfully implemented a full-inclusion program. Not finding what they were looking for, they decided to create one at CSUN.
“It was kind of a Judy Garland moment. We needed a place to demonstrate inclusive education, so we created it,” said special education professor Michele Haney, a CHIME founder and chair of the institute’s board of directors. “What started out as a small grant has evolved into a respected institute that provided benefits to all families with children. Its work with all children — those with disabilities and those without — has turned into a model for social justice for everyone.”
Inclusive education at CHIME means that children who reflect the demographics of the surrounding region — including children who develop typically, children with special needs and children who are gifted — learn side by side. CHIME’s model allows for the individual needs of each child to be addressed in a manner that enhances his or her strengths, while providing educational progress.
An initial grant from the U.S. Department of Education in the late 1980s inspired the creation of an inclusive preschool program in CSUN’s Children’s Center, which serves the preschool-aged children of the university’s students.
“In the late ’80s, the word ‘inclusion’ wasn’t even used. At the time we talked about ‘mainstreaming’ children, especially in preschool,” said Annie Cox, executive director of CHIME’s early education programs and a founder of the institute. “By the time CHIME started, there was some really good research that showed that if it’s a high-quality early education program, with collaboration between general and special education to support diverse needs, is good for all children.”
At the end of the three year grant in 1990, CHIME started its collaboration with CSUN’s Child and Family Studies Center’s Laboratory School, and the CHIME Institute was born. In 2001, the institute opened a public charter elementary school at the urging of families who could not find an inclusive educational environment for their children once they left CSUN. Two years later, a middle school was added. The two schools merged into a K-8 school located in Woodland Hills in 2010.
As it’s grown, the CHIME Institute has gained a national reputation as a leader in developing and implementing model educational programs and dynamic research and training environments to disseminate best practices in inclusive education. The institute’s research and training center is housed in CSUN’s Michael D. Eisner College of Education.
CHIME serves as a model for educators through its partnerships with the Eisner College and the Los Angeles Unified School District. It facilitates research opportunities and regularly hosts visitors from around the United States and the world who are interested in replicating its success in their own schools. Visitors have come from as far away as Japan and Holland to explore the educational practices of the institute, and CHIME readily offers to send its educators to local schools to help them adapt its methods to their curriculum.
CHIME has been recognized by the U.S. Department of Education as a model for full inclusion of students with disabilities and for providing a blueprint for local schools across the country.
“CHIME is a wonderful charter school that actually holds the key for successful, larger lessons that can be brought forward to all of public education, which is what charter schools were intended to do — explore innovative ideas, refine and generalize them to the benefit of all of public education,” said Michael Spagna, dean of CSUN’s Eisner College. “It exemplifies the best of what charter schools can be.
“I encourage everyone to come and connect with CHIME,” he continued. “Its success, its generalized lessons can be borrowed and implemented in public schools all over the country, not just in our area.”
For more information about CHIME or information about attending the institute’s 25th anniversary celebration, call (818) 677-2922 or visit the website CHIMEinstitute.org.