The Free Library Helps Students Like Kyle Start a New Chapter

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Intern Kyle Chilluti engages young readers and staff as he prepares for life in the working world.

On May 17th, Governor Tom Wolf signed into law, the “Work Experience for High School Students with Disabilities Act,” which will help students with disabilities gain competitive employment. Students like Kyle Chilluti of Northeast Philadelphia stand to benefit from the new law. Kyle is the resident “book-whisperer” at the Free Library of Philadelphia’s Bustleton branch; the 17-year-old aspiring filmmaker from MAST Charter School gives a cinematic makeover to book reviews and exhibits every week. His teaser for the anti-bullying bestseller, “Thirteen Reasons Why,” resonated with youth on the branch’s official Facebook page. In early June, Kyle and his special education classmates will be the first cohort to complete their internship with the library. The Free Library partnered with SPIN to pilot the program, with the goal of providing work experience to teens with autism, intellectual disability, and other special education needs, while still in school.


Of the estimated five 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 persist in the level of supportive employment services that teens with disability receive before transitioning into the working world. SPIN looks to address these challenges by expanding its work-based learning series for high school students. The series teaches students with special needs effective social strategies and workplace skills and provides an internship opportunity to practice those skills in the real world. At the Free Library, Kyle and his classmates learn about the library system and develop projects around their passions. “I have gotten a taste of what it’s like to work 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.” In addition, the students work alongside the library staff to complete tasks essential to the management of the library. Library staff 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. “We are thrilled with the success of our partnership with SPIN and hope that this year’s pilot internship program will continue to grow,” says Free Library president, Siobhan Reardon, “With 60 locations throughout the city, the Free Library is committed to be welcoming and inclusive of all populations in each and every community we serve. The pilot internship program is just one of many initiatives that address the varying needs of our customers.”



Photo Credit: Sarah Glynn, LaSalle Communications 2016[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]