Justin, a 14-year-old with special needs, sits at a computer in the Huguenot Park Library, in Staten Island, and ponders a comprehension quiz about an article he’s just read. The multiple-choice question asks him to fill in the blank: “A packet is a kind of ____.” His choices: Bag, zone, plant, or map. Justin answers incorrectly on his first attempt, so he thinks long and hard before finally settling on “Bag,” then submits his answer. “Fantastic!” says a pop-up message on the screen. “Fantastic!” echo Justin and his teaching aide, who sits next to him, keeping him focused.
This is precisely the kind of simple, interactive learning experience that Diane Campione, a librarian at the Huguenot Park Library, hopes will take place in all 87 neighborhood locations of The New York Public Library system. The Library has long been a resource for underserved communities, including the vision- impaired, hearing-impaired and even the incarcerated. Huguenot Park is now leading the pack in providing services for children and teens living with emotional and developmental challenges. During fiscal year 2012, NYPL offered 200 similar programs around the system; library officials are pushing to offer even more.
This fall, Campione invited staff from around NYPL to observe one of her special education programs in action. Working with a classroom of kids from the Hungerford School, which caters to children and teens with special needs on Staten Island, Campione demonstrated a computer program called Achieve, which tailors reading material and comprehension evaluations to the unique abilities and challenges of each student.
Reading levels vary widely among students in any special education classroom. Cheryl Nelms, a special ed teacher who brings her high school class to Huguenot Park once a month, said that Achieve is “wonderful, because it reads the story to [students]” if they need help.
Many children with special needs have sensory processing challenges, so Campione holds workshops in the children’s room at her library. Giving the students a room to themselves—and allowing them to check out materials away from the hustle and bustle of the branch’s main floor—makes them more comfortable and better able to absorb the educational content of the program.
Campione, a special needs parent herself, hopes to demonstrate through her workshops at Huguenot Park that special education is little more than mainstream education with an extra dose of personalization and patience. At NYPL, she says, “We have the resources, we have the technology, we have very talented staff,” and each branch can become a learning environment for all New Yorkers, whatever their abilities.
Watch the video to see the program in action and hear more of what Campione has to say about her mission.