Campus: CSU Northridge -- April 14, 2004
CSUN Students, Faculty Take Part in an Educational
In classrooms across the San Fernando Valley, Cal State Northridge students
and faculty are taking part in an educational revolution.
Under the auspices of the CHIME Institute, students and faculty are putting into
practice every day the philosophy that each child-whether she is gifted, typical
or has a disability-is an individual, and it is the teachers who must shape their
practices to ensure that the child gets an education.
"Our goal is to make sure that every child is looked at as an individual, whether
she has a disability or is gifted. If a child has a strength in a particular area
and an area of weakness, we address that as well," said Wendy Murawski, an
assistant professor of special education at Northridge and director of research
for the institute. "We take off the labels as much as possible and just look at
the children as individuals, and we meet their needs as educators by working
together and using the different areas of expertise we have."
That educational model is carried out every day by Cal State Northridge students,
faculty and alums working as teachers, paraprofessionals and student assistants
at CHIME Charter Elementary School in Woodland Hills, CHIME Charter Middle School
in Northridge and in the university's own lab school in the Center for Child and
Family Studies, or as consultants and educators with the institute's infant and
"What's happening is really quite amazing," said Sally Spencer, a teacher with
the Los Angeles Unified School District who is currently teacher-in-residence in
CSUN's Department of Special Education. "These schools are models of excellent
inclusive education that can really work, and are providing the opportunity for
hundreds of CSUN students to observe, participate in research and work with kids
in fully inclusive classrooms. And it's having a ripple effect on how people see
The CHIME Institute for Children with Special Needs was started in 1987 by
special education professors Claire Cavallaro and Michele Haney with a grant
from the U.S. Department of Education. They needed a demonstration site for
teaching CSUN students about the merits of "mainstreaming" children with
disabilities into regular classrooms, and there wasn't one in the area.
"So we decided to create one," said Cavallaro, now chief of staff for Northridge
President Jolene Koester.
Over the years, the institute has grown to include an infant/toddler program,
which provides support, education, therapies and assessment to families with
infants and toddlers with special needs, and the elementary and middle schools.
The institute is an independent entity, but it is closely affiliated with CSUN's
Michael D. Eisner College of Education. Many Northridge faculty members volunteer
their time to administer and oversee its programs, and to develop new programs.
Cal State Northridge undergraduates from departments across campus, as well as
teacher credential candidates, have an opportunity to participate in or just
observe any of the CHIME Institute's programs. The elementary school also serves
as an inclusive education demonstration site for the Los Angeles Unified School
Julie Fabrocini, principal of CHIME Charter Elementary School and a lecturer in
the Eisner College of Education, is a former teacher and administrator with LAUSD.
When she was a teacher, she said, she and her colleagues were given little, if
any, support or training in serving children with a wide range of abilities in
"Even five or seven years ago, we'd go into our classrooms and shut the door and
no one would know if we fell flat on our faces or not," she said. "It was a real
challenge to general educators to give them children with a real variety of
learning differences, particularly without any support or training."
Fabrocini said CHIME's model provides teachers with the training and additional
classroom support they need-including a co-teacher trained in special education,
paraprofessionals (teacher's aides) and student teachers-so they can identify the
unique ways a child learns and tailor their curriculum to fit that child's needs.
There is also an opportunity each day for the teachers at each CHIME site to sit
down and exchange ideas on how to do things better in the classroom.
Spencer said the concept of having enough support in the classroom to deal with
the individual needs of each child, as well as having a network of colleagues to
consult with about best practices on a daily basis, can be quite revolutionary
for a lot of teachers.
"It's not that they (teachers from typical schools) are bad teachers. I haven't
met a single person yet who entered education and didn't truly care about
children," she said. "It's just that they've never been exposed to a successful
model of inclusive education. Once they see what CHIME is doing, it really opens
their minds to the possibilities."
Kate McNeil, who is getting her master's degree in special education with an
emphasis in educational therapy, agreed. She spent several days last fall
observing at the elementary school.
"It was inspiring," McNeil said. "It seems such a benefit to all the kids. There
was no shortage of attention for any of the kids. It was multi-sensory as well
as respectful of all the children's individual abilities. It was diversity in
every sense of the word. How lucky the kids are. CHIME is absolutely the way it
In the classrooms and playgrounds at the Lab School and the elementary and middle
schools, the fact that an educational revolution is taking place barely registers
with the children.
Kids, some in wheelchairs and some not, yell with delight over games in their
colorful play structures. They sit side by side at tables and desks working on
spelling lessons, art projects or in computer labs.
To the children at Lab School and CHIME Charter Elementary and Middle schools,
it's just another day.
Contact: Carmen Ramos Chandler, (818) 677-2130,