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Portland State University is creating a new program for students that borrows from the success of a Hillsboro program.

COURTESY PHOTO: PORTLAND STATE UNIVERSITY  - Pam Graves, project manager for the Inclusive Storytime at the Brookwood Public Library in Hillsboro, leads a session earlier this year.

An inclusive storytime program started at Hillsboro public libraries will serve as the inspiration for a new kind of instruction at Portland State University's College of Education.

Melissa Pebly, a supervisor of PSU's special education department, says that Hillsboro's literacy program began in 2015, when it became apparent that families of children with disabilities were hesitant to join in at public storytime sessions at public libraries.

"Librarians consistently reported low attendance of children who experience disabilities, especially those who have more extensive support needs," Pebly said in an email. "A later review of the literature in this area found that the lack of attendance in community storytime programs was a national issue."

She was driven to provide a twice-monthly program designed around a program method called Universal Design for Learning (UDL). Pebly says this framework is widely embraced by educators for early reading and writing programs while utilizing tools that support communication and access for children who may need a different approach. COURTESY PHOTO: PORTLAND STATE UNIVERSITY  - Pam Graves and Melissa Pebly from Portland State University lead an Inclusive Storytime session at the Brookwood Public Library in Hillsboro. The success of the program has led PSU to form a new training program for its education students to learn similar approaches to accessible learning.

Pebly said that the program at Hillsboro's Brookwood Library focused on things like flexible and accessible seating options, and teacher candidates were selected from those who are studying for undergraduate degrees in speech pathology.

"Incorporating the UDL framework into community literacy programs, such as those offered by the public library, can help children with disabilities and their families feel more welcome," Pebly said.

The benefits of early literacy and engagement programs is well-researched, she added. Community storytimes help young children develop skills that are necessary for success in schools. Making programs that are more accessible, therefore, translates to more local children who have early literacy skills. COURTESY PHOTO: PORTLAND STATE UNIVERSITY - Mayra Gonzalez, a teacher candidate in PSU's Master of Education program, helps children with disabilities during an Inclusive Storytime session at Hillsboro's Brookwood Public Library.

The storytimes aren't just for reading and writing, however. They also feature hands-on arts and crafts, like at one session in Hillsboro where kids made their own paper pigeons based on the titular character from the children's book "The Pigeon Will Ride The Roller Coaster" by Mo Willems.

After seeing the success of the program in Hillsboro, Portland State University says it is crafting its own program focused on this model. The university recently secured a $1.25 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education to train faculty in this inclusive approach.

"Dr. Pebly's outstanding work with the HPL will provide much needed 'how-tos' for those becoming teachers to work with their own community and school libraries," said Amy Parker, assistant professor at PSU and the program coordinator for the orientation and mobility program. "The grant will also fund the use of creative materials to make books accessible for K-12 students with visual impairments including those with multiple disabilities. This work will have an impact in Oregon and the Pacific Northwest."

PSU's program serves a six-state region in the Pacific Northwest. Pebly's training will help educators take what they learn in Oregon and implement similar accessible literacy programs where they live.

The scholars who train through PSU's program, which has the acronym LIBROS, will train at the Hillsboro Library to build the skills needed to work with students who have disabilities. COURTESY PHOTO: PORTLAND STATE UNIVERSITY - The Inclusive Storytime program at Hillsboro's Brookwood Library also includes hands-on craft projects where students can interact with characters from their favorite books.

Pebly and Parker both said that the success of the program, and its translation into a larger educational training program, demonstrates the need for libraries as community resources. They're not just a place for locals to gather and learn, but they can be incubators for new approaches to teaching.

"Libraries are a trusted resource that provide important services to families, including helping young children to develop readiness for school," Pebly said.

Parker said that programs like this are especially important after a pandemic that set many students back academically.

"Libraries have become even more important since the pandemic as supports for children and families," she said.

The Inclusive Storytime in Hillsboro is held every second and fourth Friday of the month. It is open to 15 children, ages 3 to 5, and their parents and caregivers.

Learn more at and pre-register by contacting Melissa Pebly at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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