By Connie Llanos, Staff Writer | L.A. Daily News | http://bit.ly/e6WZ5L
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger poses with students at CHIME Institute’s Schwarzenegger Community School in Woodland Hills. (Photo by David Crane/Staff)
11/22/2010 - The students, teachers and parents who attend, work and volunteer at the CHIME Institute have bragged for years that their school is unique.
The K-8 charter is renowned for its inclusive program that teaches youngsters of all levels and abilities – from gifted to severely disabled – side by side in the classroom.
On Monday, the Woodland Hills campus found another way to set itself apart, re-naming itself in honor of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.
"It doesn't matter how many Mr. Universes or Mr. Worlds you win ... it is a very different kind of honor to have a school named after you," the former bodybuilder and actor said during a ceremony at the CHIME Institute Schwarzenegger Community School.
"I promise to visit, to pay attention ... I can promise you that I'll be back," Schwarzenegger added, thrilling the crowd with the catch phrase he made famous in "The Terminator."
Opened in 2001, CHIME is a publicly funded, independently run charter that has long received attention from Schwarzenegger and his wife, Maria Shriver.
Shriver said her late mother, Eunice Kennedy Shriver – who founded the Special Olympics and was a vocal advocate for special-needs children and adults - would have been "beyond proud" to be connected to the progressive school.
"This school is leading the nation," Shriver said. "This is the way we should all be conducting our lives.
CHIME, which started as an early childhood program based at Cal State Northridge, opened a charter elementary school in 2001 and a middle school in 2003.
The elementary campus was named for Schwarzenegger in 2007, but it merged with the middle school this year in Woodland Hills. Monday's ceremony was to rename the combined campus.
The school serves some 650 students from 40 zip codes who are chosen by lottery to attend.
Actress Amy Brenneman, who stars in ABC's drama "Private Practice," said she discovered CHIME two years ago while looking for a school for her eldest daughter.
"I was sold when I saw students, at all levels, working at their own pace," Brenneman said. "At CHIME everyone flourishes. This not only produces better scholars, but it produces better people."
Teachers at CHIME work in teams that include a special education instructor and at least one aide. The team members collaborate to develop a curriculum that students in their diverse classrooms can understand.
Seventh-grade English teacher Tawny Black, for instance, is using modern-day rap to present Edgar Allen Poe's 1849 poem "Annabel Lee."
"It's not like I can grab a textbook and tell students to read a passage and answer questions," she said. "I have to find ways to make the material interesting and approachable for students of all different learning styles."
While some charter schools have been accused of failing to adequately service special education students, Los Angeles Unified Superintendent Ramon Cortines said he considers CHIME to be a model school.
"This is a marvelous place ... truly a model for all schools in the district and the state," Cortines said.
Beyond instilling the values of responsibility and tolerance, CHIME is also an academic success.
Its elementary students last year scored 802 in the state's Academic Performance Index, which measures achievement on standardized tests. Schools are scored on a scale of 200 to 1,000 points, with a goal of 800.
CHIME middle school students scored 777 – which is well above the average for their LAUSD counterparts.
"This really has been a unique environment," said Tammy Croy, who is the mother of eighth-grader Noah – a special-needs student who has been attending CHIME since kindergarten.
"Noah has always felt completely accepted here, and while it gets more difficult as he gets older he's made friends here," she said.
"The problem for me will be what to do next year ... I just can't find any place like this."