- Gwen Alessi
- For more information, visit www.tiesprogram.org
- Application to participate in the TIES program
The Williamsville Central School District participates in TIES (Together Including Every Student). TIES is a program which promotes the participation of children and young adults with developmental disabilities in extracurricular and community-based activities by providing effective, positive, student-specific support. As the first Western New York district to jump on board, Williamsville became one of 30+ districts involved in the program, which is one program of The Advocacy Center, Rochester, New York.
Originally founded by two parents, TIES has grown to approximately 420 participants regionally and over 950 volunteers. TIES provides students with disabilities the opportunity to fully engage in activities that they would have otherwise refrained from joining or done so only with the direct supervision of an adult. Trained student volunteers in grades 9-12 from one of the three high schools in the Williamsville Central School District serve as peer mentors to students with developmental disabilities so they can successfully participate in an afterschool club, a town recreational program, or a community activity. While volunteers may accrue hours to satisfy the community service requirement for specific courses, most report that the experience has provided far more.
All volunteers attend a training session presented by the TIES Coordinator prior to their first volunteer experience. The 45-minute workshop includes valuable information about the importance of belonging and friendship, relationship building, disability awareness, and effective support strategies. Participants are paired with volunteers based on similarity of interest, desired activities and availability. A support plan for each participant is developed that addresses his/her unique needs. The plan is subsequently shared with the volunteer and any questions are addressed by the Coordinator. The volunteer attends the activity with the participant child and offers assistance with physical, social and/or communication needs.
The TIES Coordinator closely monitors the activity in which the participant and the volunteer participate. Parents are intimately involved in helping to develop the support plan and familiarizing the volunteer with likes, dislikes, and proclivities. The TIES Coordinator communicates with everyone during the course of the activity to ensure that expectations are clear. Collaborating with the parent and the volunteer is important in making the participant’s experience successful.
Over the past several years, volunteers and participants have had many positive experiences, participating on various school or recreational teams (e.g., track, basketball, swimming), enjoying sporting events, attending Boy/Girl Scouts meetings, taking part in after-school/before-school clubs, enrolling in arts and crafts classes, participating in town recreation programs such as open skate and ‘teen nights,’ and becoming involved in drumming circles.
The power of TIES is illustrated by the desire of an eighth grade student to participate on the school track team. The support of an adult running the track was required but was neither realistic nor feasible. While his parent was willing, the young man certainly did not want his mom to run with him. With the encouragement of the coaches and the work of the Coordinator, TIES allowed for the recruitment of several student volunteers who were able to share the commitment and support this young man on a daily basis. These dedicated volunteers established a strong, caring relationship with the student participant who successfully completed his first year competing in the 400 meter event. The student, diagnosed with autism who communicates primarily through typing, is proudly involved in year two on the modified track team. Watching this young man and the TIES volunteers cross the finish line together is simply inspiring.
According to The Advocacy Center, “opportunities for personal and social growth are essential to the development of healthy individuals.” Our District could not concur more. We have a long-established tradition of inclusion and believe strongly in the value of diversity. All children are entitled to participate in meaningful ways across the full range of the educational experience and TIES provides another venue by which to provide these essential experiences. Participants and volunteers, alike, develop a positive understanding of themselves and others, along with a respect for similarities and differences. Providing more naturalized support to students enhances involvement, encourages engagement, promotes independence and facilitates socialization. Since the activities chosen are driven by student interest and choice, a greater sense of autonomy and feelings of efficacy are natural by-products of participation in the program.