A field trip is on the horizon. Billy and his teacher are boarding a bus with the rest of his classmates, to travel from Burton High School library to the Portola Library for a book club.
“This book club is their own,” says head librarian Nicole Germain at the Portola Library. “We’re not teaching them anything. It’s not learning how to read, it’s reading to learn,” she says.
Germain is not only the librarian here, but the founder of this branch of the Next Chapter Book Club. It’s a national book club for adolescents and adults with developmental disabilities. Germain is known as the camp counselor of librarians; she has a special knack for encouraging students to read. Germain also wanted to create a space in the library that had inclusive programming, including for the intellectually and the developmentally disabled.
The Next Chapter Book Club currently hosts students from Burton High School; they meet once a week and alternate locations between the school’s library and the local one. A huge part of working with developmentally disabled teens is preparing them for integration, and alternating locations helps the students feel comfortable using a community resource even after they graduate.
The high school and the Portola library feel that the empowerment is already starting to take shape. Germain tells me about one of her favorite moments so far.
“The first meeting, there was one student who just did not want to come into the room, and that was fine. The second meeting, he got a little bit warmed up to it and he started reading a little bit. The next meeting here, he made it into the room and he sat a little bit closer to our circle. Then, Germain says, there was a breakthrough, “ He and I were doing this dramatic reading, this back and forth reading, he was so animated and so excited about it and the teachers were so excited it they started filming it!”
For the students, libraries become much more than just places. They become an open invitation to learn, to connect with friends, and ultimately feel more comfortable in their community.