This school year, Frisco Public Library (FPL) has welcomed an extraordinary team of high school volunteers to the second floor every other Wednesday. Each Monday, they go over the upcoming week on a large calendar, posted in the classroom. Each morning, they plan their day. On Library days, they look forward to arriving at 1:30, sorting and stickering DVDs, and cleaning tables and blocks. There’s nothing extraordinary about this, until you consider that all these students have significant disabilities. They are members of Frisco Independent School District’s (FISD) Life Skills program, the goal of which is “to achieve the highest level of academic progress possible while participating with maximum independence in integrated community, domestic, recreational and vocational activities.”
“Yes. They have disabilities, but pushing through that and saying, ‘We’re still going. I’m not giving up on you. We’re still gonna try.’” That’s the mindset of Summayia Haq, the teacher who brings eight volunteers to FPL as part of FISD’s ACCESS (Academic, Community, and Career Environment for Student Success) program.
These teens are verbal, can engage in conversations, and have expressed interest in contributing actively to their community.
“[They are] the ones that are really looking at possible employment post-high school,” explains Ms. Haq, who notes the interaction with the general public is key to their success. “It’s rewarding to see them eager to get out of the classroom. One of the reasons we chose the Library is because it is such a rewarding place. Plus, a lot of these kids love their school libraries.”
The partnership seemed like a natural fit and has proven to be just that. Last summer, Ms. Haq contacted FPL librarian Yvette Mendez about volunteer opportunities. Plans to give it a try were swiftly made and approved by youth services manager Jennifer Cummings.
“We love our Life Skills volunteers,” smiles Ms. Cummings. “They provide a great service to us and our guests and, frankly, there’s no better feeling than knowing this chance to serve in the Library is a step toward these students’ future success.”
The kids enjoy participating for lots of reasons. Grace and Elijah are more excited to talk about their plans to go to prom together than about volunteering, but they share some insights. They enjoy the ice cream at Marble Slab Creamery, where they practice taking and filling dessert orders from one another (Elijah likes coffee flavor best). Shopping days at Walmart, where they use visual shopping lists, is fun for Grace. When asked about their time at the library, Grace looks down, a bit shy, and quietly explains, “It’s a nice place.”
FPL strives to be that “nice place” to all its guests. For that reason, this partnership between a dedicated school district, hard-working volunteers, and a community library seems like a success on all fronts.