TIES (Together Including Every Student)

Dec 14, 2011
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Peer Support & Inclusive Recreation and Leisure

The concept of “inclusive recreation” has become more evident in literature since the late 1990s.  Bullock defines inclusion in the context of recreation as “providing opportunities for a participant to choose to be with their peers in ‘regular’ recreation settings.”[i]

Bullock’s definition also outlines “providing supports and accommodations needed to ensure satisfying and valued participation”.[ii] When I scan the existing research, I always like to explore where the literature meets actual practice.  That is, how is inclusive recreation and leisure implemented at a local level?

Together Including Every Student or TIES is an example of a grassroots program model.  TIES was co-founded by parents Kathleen Costello and Leslie Hulbert. TIES is a peer matching model.  Student volunteers (in grades 8-12) are matched with students (ages 8-21) who have developmental disabilities.

Kevin Costello

TIES gives students with developmental disabilities the opportunity to participate in extracurricular and community activities that they choose.  Youth participate in a variety of activities including but not limited to: intramurals, after school clubs, sports, arts and crafts classes, and trips through their local recreation department.

When TIES was originally launched in 1998, it was implemented in two school districts located in Western New York.  Over 13 years, TIES has expanded across 25 school districts in New York State.   Approximately 500 students with disabilities and 850 student volunteers have participated in TIES.

One of the cornerstones of TIES is the one- year of funding that a school district receives to hire a TIES Coordinator.  The Coordinator implements the program with the commitment that the school district will continue TIES after the first year of funding ends.  This commitment to continue TIES has happened in all 25 school districts where TIES was launched.

With the theoretical definition of inclusive recreation in mind, I asked Kathy if there was one culminating event that created TIES.

According to Costello, “Leslie and I both had children in middle school that wanted to participate in community events but needed support to do so. Kevin wanted to attend a Rochester Amerks game through the Webster Parks and Recreation Department.  He needed one-to-one support in order to be able to participate.  He went with two TIES participants and three TIES volunteers.  He was supported and able to enjoy the hockey game and an evening with his peers without having an adult provide direct support.”

Linking Kevin with another peer seemed the common-sense and natural solution for her son to participate in recreation and leisure activities.

So, what makes TIES work?

According to Costello, “TIES works because youth with developmental disabilities are able to join any activity they choose.   Students are paired with another student versus being paired with a teacher’s aide or an adult.”

The student is able to participate in a recreation or leisure activity with a peer who receives individualized training to provide needed supports such as assistance with communication, mobility, and social interactions.

According to Costello, “This allows the participant with a disability to become a part of their school and community.  Students with and without disabilities get to know their schoolmates and neighbors.  My son Kevin was able to attend many recreation and leisure activities that he would not have been able to without TIES.  He participated in Outrigger canoeing, cooking classes, and also his Senior Ball. I never thought Kevin would be able to attend his Senior Ball.”

Kathy’s son Kevin went to his Senior Ball with his friend and TIES volunteer.   According to Costello, “He had his friends over for dinner, went to the dance in a limo, and attended his Senior Ball!”

So, what does TIES accomplish?  It creates socialization opportunities, creates access to leisure, and initiates peer- to- peer interaction in a way that is not forced or artificial.   TIES creates an opportunity for people with disabilities to truly be a part of their community, neighborhood, and school.


If you would like more information about TIES, contact:kcostell@rochester.rr.com or visit the TIES website at www.TIESProgram.org

[i] Bullock, C.C., & Mahon, M.J. (2001). Introduction to Recreational Services for People with Disabilities (2nd ed.). Champaign, IL: Sagamore Publishing.

[ii] Bullock, C.C., & Mahon, M.J. (2001). Introduction to Recreational Services for People with Disabilities (2nd ed.). Champaign, IL: Sagamore Publishing.

Author: Kerry