Free Library Internship Prepares Special Needs Students for Life After High School

By Jenn D. Fri, June 3, 2016

Kyle Chilluti is the resident "book whisperer" at the Free Library of Philadelphia’s Bustleton Library. The 17-year-old aspiring filmmaker from MaST Community Charter School gives a cinematic makeover to weekly book reviews and exhibits, landing his teaser for the anti-bullying thriller Th1rteen R3asons Why on the neighborhood library’s Facebook page.

In early June, Kyle and his special education classmates will be the first to complete an internship with the Free Library as part of a program piloted with disability-services organization SPIN to provide work experience to teens with autism, intellectual disability, and other special education needs while still in school.

Of the estimated 5 million Americans with intellectual and developmental disabilities, the majority of adults report being unemployed or under-employed, despite an ability and willingness to engage in meaningful work. Employer misconceptions about disability hiring are only partially to blame for this disparity; major gaps still exist in supportive employment services for adults with disabilities. SPIN addresses these challenges early in adults’ career development with a work-based learning series for high-school students. The series teaches students with special needs effective social strategies and workplace skills and provides a supported internship opportunity to practice those skills in the real world. Kyle and his classmates have learned about the library system and developed projects around their passions.

"I have gotten a taste of what it’s like in a real work environment," says Kyle, "The Free Library and my job coach from SPIN helped me to create an exciting experience where I can try something new and collaborate on new ideas with library staff." Library staff members have also been trained to support and engage members with various disabilities and learning styles.

As part of its five-year strategic plan, the Free Library has enhanced its programming for people with disabilities. The internship program with SPIN is a natural fit, one that both organizations hope to expand to additional schools.


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