is best known for her TV roles on Private Practice, NYPD
Blue and Judging Amy, which was based on her real life
mother, who was a state superior court judge in Connecticut. As the
wife and mom of two, daughter, Charlotte, and son, Bodhi, Brenneman
is heavily involved in her childrens school, CHIME. She favors
its unique approach to education by blending together typical kids,
like Bodhi, and kids with disabilities, like daughter, Charlotte,
who has cognitive challenges. In recent years, the actress has hosted,
along with actor Benjamin Bratt, the fundraiser CHIMEapalooza, and
has traveled as an ambassador for CARE, the humanitarian organization
devoted to fighting poverty. Brenneman recently spoke with ABILITYs
Chet Cooper and Lia Martirosyan.
Chet Cooper: We had a meeting recently with the conference producers
happening in the United Arab Emirates. They are working with their
department of education to better integrate children with disabilitiesand
I mentioned CHIME.
Amy Brenneman: We actually just got a grant to develop a three-day
curriculum so that people from other schools can come; one day theyll
observe a classroom, and the next day therell be seminars. The
whole thing will give professional support to people who want to be
inclusive, but dont know how. Its going to happen in the
spring and, hopefully by the fall, well have people come through
four or five times a year. Erin Studer, CHIMEs
executive director and principal, got me involved. I think I was one
of the only parents to be in on the planning; it was mostly educators
asking, If you had to boil down inclusion into three two-hour
seminars, what would it look like? It was a super-cool process.
Lia Martirosyan: How did you connect with CHIME?
Brenneman: My daughter has cognitive academic special needs. I got
an Individualized Educational Program (IEP) for her when she was three.
Back then we were in another school for a couple years, waiting to
see if it was going to do it, and it immediately became clear that
it was the wrong fit. But there were very few options. I actually
heard about CHIME around that time, because one of the first grade
teachers kids went to the same preschool as Charlotte. So CHIME
had been on my mind. And then I saw it and immediately knew that it
would be a great fit for my daughter. Weve been there for four
years. So shes in fifth grade, and my son is in second.
Cooper: Its great that both your kids can attend the same school.
What grade level does CHIME go up to?
Brenneman: Eighth. Theres a big push to start a high school.
Cooper: Hows that campaign coming along?
Brenneman: Im sure it will happen. Erin is very committed to
it. High schools have some different, yet similar requirements. Itll
be the same sort of philosophy of project-based, accessible curriculums.
A lot of the mechanics would be the same, scaffolding the academics
Martirosyan: How does scaffolding work?
Brenneman: I believe scaffolding is the word they use to mean: How
is this particular learner going to access this particular curriculum?
The concept is to make the lessons accessible to kids with different
abilities. Like right now, in fifth grade, theyre doing the
Revolutionary War, and the class is reading Johnny Tremain.
My daughter has an adapted version of the novel thats betterso
she can access the plot and participate in class discussions; the
language is more simplified.
Cooper: I like the term scaffolding; it conjures up
images of building around a certain issue, and then assuring everyone
access to it. How did you get involved in TASH [an advocacy organization
that promotes full inclusion of people with significant disabilities
into their communities]?
Brenneman: Through Amy Hanreddy, who is on the California-TASH board.
When we first came to CHIME, Amy was the assistant principal, and
shes an enormously important person to me. She asks me to do
things and I do them, because they always turn out well.
Cooper: I was surprised to see you do that song-and-dance number
at the TASH event in November.
Brenneman: Because of that conference, I got to meet Eva Sweeney,
who is now a rock star to me. [Sweeney is a gender-studies scholar
with cerebral palsy.] I feel like I meet so many amazing people. Comedian
Allison Cameron Gray, a buddy of mine, is going to be part of the
Cooper: Are you going to bring in those Pittsburgh tap dancers; the
ones who do that Riverdance-style performance?
Brenneman: I knowits like Irish step dance.
Cooper: Isnt that Riverdance troupe an Irish group?
Brenneman: Isnt tap dancing like Fred Astaire?
Brenneman: Yeah. Riverdance is that weird, straight-arm, step-dancing
Cooper: And there are three rivers in Pittsburgh, so maybe thats
where they picked up the name.
Tell me about your recent CHIMEapalooza event?
Brenneman: It was for the CHIME Institute, not just for the elementary
school. Lots of people in our elementary school would say, What
is the institute? because they didnt come up through the
infant-toddler or pre-school levels. CHIME Institute oversees infant-toddler,
preschool and teacher training. So part of why I took over the fundraiser
is I thought: I want to connect the charter school to this bigger
mission. If you get there and your kid doesnt have an IEP, and
you just know its a great school, you wouldnt even know
how cool the school really is. Although everybody senses theres
something really special about this place, and about the care that
the teachers take. When you dig deeper you realize why. It has to
do with seeing each kid as an individual, and individualizing the
Before CHIMEapalooza, Benjamin and I did this small fundraiser, and
I kept thinking, This does not feel like our community. Our community
is funky and wild and eclectic. So I had this vision for a night that
was funky and wild and eclectic. It was a great success last year,
both in terms of money raised, inclusivity and how fun it was. Its
not politically correct, Those poor kids. Its really,
This is why this community feels so great.
Cooper: So the second one was at CSUN (California State University,
Brenneman: Benjamin and I wrote it and we included my friend Tim Daly
and Lorraine Toussaintand some performers with disabilities
into it. Allison Cameron Gray did some of her stand-up; shes
Cooper: CHIME is affiliated with CSUN; do you attend the CSUN technology
Cooper: Do you know about it?
Brenneman: I do.
Cooper: Then you probably know that it deals with different issues
relating to accessibility and technology. Some of the products demonstrated
during the conference are life-changing.
Brenneman: How cool.
Martirosyan: Aside from your TV show and your fundraiser, what else
have you been up to?
Brenneman: In December, I went to this little town in Peru with CARE;
Ive started to do some traveling for them. The program I was
looking at had to do with nutrition for pregnant moms and kids. I
was with this really wonderful man whos a pediatrician in Lima,
works with CARE and was my translator.
I was really struck by this one kid there. His mom came up to me;
she spoke a Peruvian language and she said to this doctor, Can
you help me? My son is six years old and he doesnt speak.
My little ears just perked right up. I said, Tell her my daughter
didnt really talk till she was four. And I thought, wow,
what are the chances of this kid getting what he needs? But at the
same time this boy is part of a town of 123 people, where hes
loved and belongs.
Cooper: Did he sign?
Brenneman: No. I think there was something spectrum-y
about him, but he wasnt totally shut down. I thought, okay,
my daughter didnt speak at two and they said, Get her
into speech therapy, the next day she was in speech therapy.
In LA, though, we have resources. When you do international developmental
work, you realize that first you need clean water and sanitation and
then, if a person has a special concern on top of that, you try to
deal with it.
Cooper: Was this CARE part of the woman empowerment portion of the
Brenneman: It was basicallyI want to go. I brought my kids.
They wanted to send us to Africa and I thought, I dont know
if I want to go all the way to Africa. But logistically, Peru is a
very easy trip. It was a program called Windows of Opportunity, which
is mostly nutrition for these villages that are pretty remote. It
involves a well-baby checkup; everything we would do at a pediatricians
Cooper: Its good that theyre doing that. One challenge
is follow-up. Often times theres such a need, weve done
stories on the Mercy Ships, where people literally walk for days to
be seen by a doctor. The lines are so long sometimes they cant
be seen. Then they have to go back home and the ship doesnt
return for another year, if it comes back at all.
Brenneman: Thats right. But I think what CARE really wants to
do is train local people. Thats the only way its going
to have any legs to stand on.
Cooper: The Mercy Ships are looking to do that, too. They do try
to bring other local health care facilitators onto the ship to learn,
but the equipment can
Brenneman: Im sure.
Martirosyan: What are you working on creatively, these days?
Brenneman: I pitched a movie to Showtime the other day. My friend,
Rodrigo Garcia and I had an idea about a year ago about a mother of
a pretty seriously disabled kid. And whenever I pitch the script,
its sort of like we have to pretend theres no CHIME. Were
making the kid about five, so theyre sort of coming out of that
cocoon of adjusting and meeting the Eva Sweeneys of the world. People
might think, who would want a disability? Nobody, right? And then,
okay, but what is this CHIME-like community? And look at how vibrant
and life affirming it is for everybody. Because its about authenticity,
acceptance and communicationall this stuff thats interesting.
We were talking about casting. So Gail Williamson, of Down Syndrome
in Arts & Media and Rodrigo knew each other from somewhere else.
It was interesting, because Rodrigo is just an amazing storyteller,
but he doesnt know of this disability world at all, so Ive
been sort of leading him along and we had this great meeting with
Amy Hanreddy. And at the end she said, Whats really cool
is, you could cast a doctor with a disability. Rodrigo got really
nervous. I was like, Its okay!
We talked about it later, and were not there yet, but I said,
Hypothetically, what is it about that idea that makes you nervous?
And he said, I have to direct. It just is a new thing
in ABILITY Magazine
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from the Amy
Charles Limb, MD Jazzology & Your Brain
CSUN This is Your Future
Amy Brenneman Chiming In
HE Fahed Bin Al Shaikh Autism
in the UAE
Allergies on Ice
in the Amy Brenneman Issue; Geri Jewell Spring Into Action;
Ashley Fiolek Making the Move; Humor A Tail of Two Kitties:
CSUN This is Your Future: Long Haul Paul Riding the
MS Trail: Tony Spineto You Say Club Foot, I Say Marathon: DRLC
Federal Wellness Programs: Kendall Hollinger Allergies
on Ice: Charles Limb, MD Jazzology & Your Brain: China
A Familys Story of Strength: Scotty Enyart PhD
the Hard Way: Amy Brenneman Chiming In: HE Fahed Bin Al Shaikh
Autism in the UAE: Caroline McGraw Finding the Gifts
in Everyonet; ABILITY's Crossword Puzzle; Events and Conferences...