By Susan Jaworski, Interlibrary Loan Clerk, Buffalo State College, E.H. Butler Library
A version of this article appears in ERIC – World’s Largest Digital Library of Education Literature. ED51134, Summer 2010. Web. 14 Sept. 2010. http://www.eric.ed.gov/.
Through collaboration with two distinct programs, the College-Based Transition Program and the Work Transition Program, staff members at E. H. Butler Library, Buffalo State College to help make inclusivity and diversity more than just buzzwords; here on this campus they are part everyday normal life.
The College-Based Transition Program (CBTP), a collaborative partnership between Buffalo Public Schools, People Inc., Parents for Public Schools, and Buffalo State College, aims to help students with disabilities achieve a well-rounded and more fulfilling college experience. It provides an opportunity for young people ages 18 – 23 who have completed high school and have a wide range of developmental disabilities to participate in an inclusive, age-appropriate learning environment, acquiring job skills as well as social skills that will prepare them for the workplace. The Work Transition Program, which is run through the Buffalo Public School system, brings multiply disabled students, ages 18- 21 years, to the library for work internships. Through these internships, students learn to be more independent, and acquire social skills while learning about responsibility, dependability and cooperation. Program participants also experience a comfort level amongst their peers and campus awareness. Students who participate in Work Transition Program could very well migrate over to the CBTP and continue on in a more academic role. Claudia Kania, special education teacher in the Buffalo Public Schools, has been with the program for over ten years. She brings small groups of students with aides to the library once a week for two hour shifts. These students spend the first hour doing tasks for the library and the second hour socializing in the student union. This gives students the chance to acquire not only on the job training but allows them to spend time with their peer group.
The CBTP has come a long way since its launch at Buffalo State College in 2001. It was the first program of its kind in the country to combine a social service agency, a school district and a college. This program is now being modeled after in the Rochester school district, but we had nowhere to go for advice on how to make it work. The first task at hand was to find professors who would be willing to allow these non-traditional students to attend their classes. Ramona Santa Maria, assistant professor for the Computer Information Systems Department, was one of the first approached. “I began working with CBTP in its first year, and it has changed me significantly,” she said. “I used to feel uncomfortable about how to act around someone with a disability; I didn’t think that this was my ‘gift’. However, after the first year working with CBTP, and after they set up the teaching assistant program, I became more comfortable in the classroom and realized that I need to treat them like any other student in the class”. Professor Santa Maria was one of only four professors that were willing to work with this group the first year.
Once the educational aspect of the program was established, the second part involved finding internships for participating students that integrated them into the mainstream college experience. This, however, proved to be one of the more difficult steps in establishing the program, as there were few opportunities and even fewer volunteers willing to welcome the students into their workplace. Thankfully, Mary Lou Vaughan, a special education teacher from the Buffalo Public Schools who was working on establishing the program, approached me and asked if I had any jobs in the library her students could do. She explained that these were students with significant disabilities that would work with aides and do whatever jobs were within their capabilities, with no disruption to library service as a whole. I told her we absolutely had jobs for these students in the library, and thus, the library’s partnership with CBTP was born.
Students participating in the program were brought in and interviewed to see where their qualifications matched daily library duties, and there were many options. E.H. Butler Library, located in the museum district of Buffalo, New York, is a very busy academic library, and is always bustling with activity. Tasks we immediately identified as appropriate work for CBTP students included daily maintenance of the stack areas, which involved picking up all the materials that were left on tables and in study carrels; general cleaning; and rough sorting of library materials. The tasks that grew from this opportunity continued to expand and character traits once thought to be symptoms of a disability now turned out to be job skills. Autism, a disorder that expounds repetitive behavior, can find an ally in shelving books, shelf reading and filing. Students that were once lacking social skills now work at the circulation desk helping check materials in and out. Jobs that other students do not find enjoyable are happily tackled by some of the special needs students. Not only do they do these jobs well, in many cases they exceed expectations.
The benefits of E.H. Butler Library’s participation in CBTP are numerous, and are felt by both library staff and program participants. In this exchange of forces, we as clerks of an understaffed library get much needed assistance from students that come to work on time and with enthusiasm. In return, the students acquire the social interaction and communication skills that they may initially lack, as well as life skills, work experience and letters of recommendation that make them as viable in the employment market as their mainstream peers. Specifically, each student is given a uniform, a time sheet and instructions on professional protocol. If they are not coming in, or are late, they are taught how to call into a place of employment. They are also taught how to use a time clock, as well as appropriate dress and behavior for the professional setting. They receive on-the-job training in various library departments such as circulation, stacks and interlibrary loan. Consequently, many CBTP students have gone on to get jobs in the “real world.”
There are advantages to Buffalo State College as well, students from the Exceptional Education Department work with the CBTP as mentors and help provide tutoring, course modification, scribing and anything else that is needed to help CBTP students fulfill their course requirements. This gives them the opportunity to work one on one with differently abled students and helps them with their own course work as well.
Since its establishment in 2001, CBTP has grown exponentially each year, with more and more success stories to show for it. There are now over 70 professors who admit CBTP students into their classes. Each student is required to achieve 72 continuing education units (CEU’s) to complete the program, and most program participants graduate with over 100 CEU’s. In many instances, the CBTP students are taking their classes with the rest of the student body. Sometimes modifications must be made to accommodate these students, but that is the exception and not the rule. Many program participants are enrolled in 300-level math and history courses, and are passing with high academic standards. CBTP student success is not limited to academics: most notably among them is one young woman who participated in the program is now a file clerk at a busy downtown legal office—not as an intern but as a paid employee.
In addition to the benefits previously mentioned, the library’s involvement in both of these transition programs ultimately allows us to enhance the college experience not only for program participants, but for the mainstream students as well. When program participants are engaged in highly visible areas of the library that require interaction with mainstream students, CBTP students hone their communication skills while the students they are serving gain experience that shatters their stereotypes about differently-abled people.
The college environment is a great place for all young adults to realize their place in the world, and through these two successful partnerships, Butler Library directly contributes to making this experience possible for all students, regardless of ability. Hopefully by being a successful role model for this program more colleges and universities will realize what an inspiring collaborative effort this has been and how it has enriched all the lives it has touched.
For more information about these programs, please contact Susan Jaworski, Interlibrary Loan Clerk, winner of the 2004 Pathfinders Award and 2008 Certificate of Appreciation from the College Based Transition Program at firstname.lastname@example.org, or Mary Lou Vaughan, Buffalo Public Schools special education teacher (CBTP), at email@example.com.