of ABILITYs operation in South America recently visited
CHIME, a charter school in Californias San Fernando Valley that
promises quality education for all. She spoke with Annie Cox, the executive
director of Early Education Programs, and Erin Studer, executive director
of Charter School Programs.
Alejandra Delaporte: Tell me a bit about how CHIME came to be.
Annie Cox: The CHIME Institute is a nonprofit organization that started
back in 1990. Prior to that, we had secured a U.S. Department of Education
grant from 87 to 90 through two California State University
at Northridge (CSUN) professors; it allowed us to look at preschool
inclusion. The question we were exploring was how to support young children
with disabilities in a typical early education program, so we did our
own initial assessments while providing services to the community, mostly
in the San Fernando Valley area.
At the end of the grant, we found that there were not a lot of options
for parents who wanted to send their children to an inclusive school;
at the same time, there was research that supported inclusion for young
children with disabilities.
Delaporte: Was this before the Americans with Disabilities Act or
Individuals with Disabilities Education Act?
Cox: Yes. It was 1975, when the Education for All Handicapped Children
Act began making sure that children with disabilities got an education.
In the late 80s, the word inclusion wasnt even
used; at the time we talked about mainstreaming children,
especially in preschool. The rationale was that at that age theyre
young, so why cant they learn together? It kind of makes sense.
By the time CHIME started, there was already some really good research
saying: If its a high-quality early education program, its
good for all kids.
So after the grant ran out in 90, the local school district didnt
have a lot of integratedto use one of the words from that timeor
inclusive options. So we started our preschool program. Were on
the CSUN campus, a training site for university students. We still do
a lot of training, and we have observation rooms, where people can watch.
Delaporte: Observing so they can study the process?
Cox: Yes. Its a laboratory preschool and training site, and we
can have 10 people in an observation room, listening to whats
going on without coming into the classroom and disrupting the model.
Delaporte: Is it done with a one-way mirror?
Cox: Yes. We had high school students visiting, and they said, This
is just like CSI. (laughs) In the room where the children
are, the wall looks just like a mirror, but on the other side we can
see through it, and listen with headphones. Its great for parents,
too, because kids can behave very differently at school than they do
Delaporte: Ive heard that schools convince some parents of
children with disabilities that its not convenient for their child
to be mainstreamed. The experience of observing what actually happens
in the classroom must be very enlightening.
Cox: And revealing... For instance, if the child with the disability
is the parents first child, they may think that an issue is disability-related,
when its just a kid issue. It may just be about being three- or
four-years-old, and to realize that really changes things.
Its okay, developmentally, that my child does this at this
time. Separation issuesany child that age might experience
that. And its not to discount the fact that the child has special
needs, but its to say, Okay, theres a common denominator
We have a contract with CSUN to be a training site. So we have really
strong connections with the university, and we are constantly being
visited by people from
other countries, as well as by teachers and administrators locally.
We would like to have staff members dedicated to outreach, training
Delaporte: Some teachers have the mind-set that including children
with disabilities is going to be too difficult, so gathering their own
evidence that inclusion works, is perfect. It seems that you could create
Cox: training modules, absolutely. And those are the kinds of
things that we really want to do more of and formalize. Were thinking
about having an inclusion institute, maybe next year, where we announce:
Come and see our preschool, our infant and toddler program, come
and see our charter school, and get the latest research and best practices
in the field.
By law, when you talk about creating the least restrictive environment
in the US for children and families, this type of approach needs to
be considered. But sometimes there either are administrators or teachers
who have not had the experience with inclusion, and their lack of exposure
gets in the way.
When we talk to families, its about creating a community where
there is respect, understanding and a feeling that were all in
this together. We are doing this because we care about each others
children, we care about each other, and we know what is the best. Some
of the research is showing that when you talk about a team approach
or the co-teaching approach in general education and special education,
For example, say theres an occupational therapist coming in, and
it may be about one target child in the classroom and maybe that child
needs some modifications or some adaptations in the classroom. Well,
very often, other children in the classroom benefit from those modifications,
Delaporte: What percentage of your students have disabilities would
Cox: We want our programs to reflect the world, where about 15 percent
to 20 percent of people have a disability. So depending on what statistics
you usesay 15 percentthats roughly the percentage
were going for in our classrooms.
Delaporte: If you have the right percentage set in a classroom, and
another child acquires a disability, do you shift them out of that class?
Cox: No, we dont. But you bring up an interesting point. Sometimes
you talk to people and if they dont know somebody with a disability,
or if they havent encountered a person with oneusually in
the form of a close relativethen they dont know much about
it. That has shifted a lot with university students.
Ive been part of CHIME for over 20 years now, and at the beginning
we talked to these young university students. How many of you
have had the experience of a person with a disability at school? Did
you have any other students around you who had disabilities? Theyd
say those students were in a different room, a different
school, a bus that picked them up and took them to a different place.
But thats starting to change, as is the world.
Delaporte: Perhaps there is a feeling now that we have to do right
by all of our children.
Cox: Right. And what do we do with our grandparents as they get older?
What is our philosophy? I think theres definitely a philosophical
angle to these matters.
Theres also a good deal of research that says that kids who learn
together also learn from each other, and for kids without disabilities,
there is a social opportunity in terms of the friendships they form.
Children dont notice a difference. Its not that were
hiding the difference, but sometimes they just dont focus on it.
So-and-so just happens to have a wheelchair, and So-and-so just happens
to talk with a voice-output device, and So-and-so is my buddy.
We had a little girl in our preschool program whose father passed away,
and she was nonverbal with a diagnosis of autism. Coming to school was
important for her, because home was a sad reminder of her loss. Still,
once in a while, she would cry at school. So the other kids in the classroom
figured out what her favorite song was, and sang it to her when she
cried. Nobody taught them that. Yet somehow they figured out that if
somebody falls down, you can help them back up. We see that beautiful
side of human nature all the time.
Delaporte: And what a difference that will make when those children
become adults, and interact with the world!
Cox: Some of the parents are working with us to make a new film about
CHIME, and they were interviewing different kids and parents, and some
of the parents found a common thread about belonging and being part
of this family. They were using the word family, so the
person working on the film said, I think we should call it, This
Is the Way the World Should Be, (laughs) which was kind
Special education in this country came about because people with disabilities
fought as a group for educational rights and parity. Putting students
in a separate classroom is not transparent enough: What curriculum is
being taught in that other classroom, and what is the message you are
sending if you separate children at a very young age and then try to
reintegrate them at 18 or 22 years old?
Delaporte: They wont be used to each other, and they wont
have bonded as much as they would have, had they been educated together.
Cox: Yes, our approach benefits everybody. One of the interviews we
did for the film was with a mom in our infant-toddler program who started
a Mommy and Me group that didnt have any kids with disabilities,
but her son has a disability and she felt pressure for him to be like
everybody else. She also felt bad that the situation wasnt working
out. So coming into our program, she relaxed, and her son relaxed, and
she felt like: This is going to be okay.
Delaporte: Differences are not only accepted but rewarded.
Cox: Right. So thats what were trying to do. When our preschool
started in 1990, parents whose children reached kindergarten age were
looking into an inclusive option for kindergarten and sometimes finding
none. Every family was almost starting anew, and each family was a little
bit different, and often lived at a distance from one another.
Given that it is a large school district, some people tried to put the
pieces together. A few were successful. Some were not. They asked, Where
do we go? What do we do? And it brought families together. In
fact, it was while standing in front of the preschool that parents,
who were talking, talking, talking, got together with the founders of
CHIME and decided to start a charter school. That was in 2001.
Delaporte: If the law says that the public school system should have
this integration already in place, whos blocking it? Teachers?
Cox: Thats difficult to say. An Individual Education Plan always
guides the process. So typically we do an assessment where we look at
a childs strengths and needs, and then we set goals for them,
and discuss services and the placement that will be needed. But even
when parents (or others) are pushing for integration, sometimes pieces
of the puzzle are missing.
If the plan is not set up properly, then it might not work, and parents
feel the pressure. For instance, the general education teacher might
say, Im not sure what to do with this student. I need some
help. And what is the role of the special education teacher? Is
it to stop by once a week? That might not be sufficient.
Delaporte: Do schools lack the financial resources to support children
who may have more complex needs?
Cox: Thats part of it; families are offered a whole gamut of choices
in terms of placement decisionsanything from nonpublic schools,
which tend to be more intensive in their support of children with disabilities,
to the regular classroom.
Sometimes schools simply tell families: This is what we have to
offer. And families, feeling like its not enough, get disappointed.
The process of finding the right fit can.....
in ABILITY Magazine
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Accesible Taxis Several Cities
Get New Wheels
Jewell The Cracks of Life
Heart Care Expert Advice From a Surgeon
in the Geri Jewell Issue; Ashley Fiolek When CNN Came Calling;
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Introducing Dan Quayle; Accesible Taxis Several Cities Get New
Wheels; Of Two Minds Film Probes Bipolar Disorder; Book Excerpt
Silent Voices; CHIME A Charter School With Its Thinking
Cap On; Libya Cleaning Up Explosive Remnants of War; China
ABILITY and China Press Join Forces; Geri Jewell The Cracks of
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Expert Advice From a Surgeon; Disability Rights Legal Center
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