Emerson Potter, a Grade 3 student at Blewett Elementary, advocated for changes to help him use his wheelchair on the school grounds. He’s seen here with his parents Lindsay Thompson and Keith Potter, and Blewett principal Tim Mushumanski (right). Photo: Tyler Harper

Emerson Potter, a Grade 3 student at Blewett Elementary, advocated for changes to help him use his wheelchair on the school grounds. He’s seen here with his parents Lindsay Thompson and Keith Potter, and Blewett principal Tim Mushumanski (right). Photo: Tyler Harper

‘Pretty awesome’: Nelson-area student advocates for school to improve outdoor accessibility

Emerson Potter, who lives with cerebral palsy, had trouble moving around Blewett Elementary’s grounds

For most students at Blewett Elementary, the trip from the school’s entrance to its field takes only a few seconds at kid speed.

For Emerson Potter, that short distance is almost not worth the effort.

To join his classmates for a gym class on the field, the eight-year-old Grade 3 student has to use his power wheelchair and leave the school grounds, travel up an adjacent road and then have a gate unlocked.

“It’s just hard, and I don’t feel very good about it sometimes,” he says.

Emerson was born with cerebral palsy, which affects motor control and posture. He can walk without assistance, but fatigues without his wheelchair.

Last winter, frustrated by his difficulty getting around the school grounds, Emerson made a case for change in a letter to School District 8. He had a little help, but Emerson’s parents Lindsay Thompson and Keith Potter stress the letter was their son’s initiative.

“We’re very proud of him because this is a big deal for him to talk about his disability,” says Thompson.

“Even though he was born with cerebral palsy he struggles with it and with talking about it. I think this is giving him a big voice and confidence to talk for himself, and to realize he’s going to be helping other people is also very good.”

In February, Emerson met with director of operations Bruce MacLean and a plan was formed — a new path to the field would be built close to entrance, and access would also be improved to the tennis courts on the other side of the building.

“It’s going to be pretty awesome,” says Emerson.

Balfour landscaping company Don Renzie Holdings has committed to offering the district a discounted equipment rental rate and assistance, which Blewett principal Tim Mushumanski said came after he heard Emerson’s story.

MacLean said the work will begin Thursday, May 27 and be completed by the following Monday so Emerson can make use of it before the school year ends.

Mushumanski said he didn’t think most eight-year-olds would know how to advocate for themselves. Emerson, he added, took charge from the beginning.

“He was very convinced, very forthright, well-planned out, a forceful young man,” said Mushumanski. “So I think a career in politics, a career in public speaking, motivation, those kinds of things are perfect for him.”

Still, Mushumanski concedes a student shouldn’t have had to make the case for accessibility work that should have already been done at the 59-year-old school.

MacLean said new schools are built with features such as automatic doors and easily accessed washrooms, but older schools such as Blewett weren’t designed for students with mobility difficulties. As students enter schools, he said, work is done to accommodate their needs.

“The mindset has changed,” says MacLean. “So we do focus on the support of individual students.”

He added Blewett had already previously renovated a washroom for Emerson, who entered the school in kindergarten.

Emerson, meanwhile, is looking forward to getting around the school a little easier. Future students with wheelchairs, he says, will appreciate the changes too.

“I think they’ll be pretty happy.”

@tyler_harper | tyler.harper@nelsonstar.com

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

Just Posted

Fruit farmers in the Okanagan and Creston valleys are in desperate need of cherry harvesters amid COVID-19 work shortages. (Photo: Unsplash/Abigail Miller)
‘Desperate’ need for workers at Okanagan cherry farms

Fruit farmers are worried they’ll have to abandon crops due to COVID-19 work shortages

A tent housing a mobile vaccination clinic. (Interior Health/Contributed)
Over 5K jabbed at Interior Health mobile COVID-19 vaccine clinics

The clinics have made stops in more than 40 communities since launching last week

Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry talks about B.C.’s plan to restart the province during a press conference at Legislature in Victoria, Tuesday, May 25, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
Interior Health COVID-19 cases falling slower than the rest of B.C.

More than a third of provincial cases announced Thursday came from the Interior

The residents of Abbeyfield House. (Contributed)
Stephanie Sollows – backbone of Abbeyfield

Sollows has been working at the home for almost a decade

The Greater Vernon Chamber of Commerce will host the Valley Wide Business Expo May 4 at Predator Ridge Resort. (photo submitted)
Golf raffle helps Okanagan families score homes

Habitat for Humanity Okanagan swinging into action this summer with a new raffle

A small pod of Pacific white-sided dolphins pass by close to shore in Campbell River June 16, 2021. Still capture from video courtesy of Kimberly Hart
VIDEO: Dolphin sunset captured from Vancouver Island shore

Spectacular setting for view of travelling pod of Pacific white-sided dolphins

Rita Coolidge played the main stage at Vancouver Island Musicfest in 2017. (Black Press file photo)
This year’s Vancouver Island MusicFest to virtually showcase beauty of Comox Valley

Returning July 9 through 11 with more than 25 hours of music performances

British Columbia’s premier says he’s received a second dose of the Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine. (Twitter/John Horgan)
B.C. premier gets 2nd dose of AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine

John Horgan shared a photo of himself on social media Friday afternoon holding a completed vaccination card

A lotto Max ticket is shown in Toronto on Monday Feb. 26, 2018.THE CANADIAN PRESS
No winning ticket sold for Friday’s $70 million Lotto Max jackpot

The huge jackpot has remained unclaimed for several weeks now

Earls On Top at 211 Bernard Avenue in Kelowna. (Google Maps photo)
Downtown Kelowna’s Earls ordered closed after COVID-19 transmission

Earls on Top on Bernard Avenue will be closed from June 18 to June 27

A motorycle crash has been reported on Westside Road. (Google Maps)
UPDATE: Westside Road reopened following motorcycle crash near Vernon

AIM Roads advises drivers to expect delays due to congestion

(File photo)
Penticton not holding Canada Day activities out of respect for Indigenous people

Cities across B.C. are cancelling the holiday after an increased spotlight on Canada’s dark history

Dereck Donald Sears. (Contributed/Crimestoppers)
Murder charge laid in relation to suspicious Kelowna death

Dereck Donald Sears is charged with second-degree murder in the death of Darren Middleton

Most Read