I-Team Exclusive: Local school making enrichment garden more inclusive


LAS VEGAS (KLAS) — The I-Team has been following the story of Joel, a boy who was abused as a baby and rendered wheelchair bound, since early 2019. As a result of the I-Team’s stories, the community stepped up to donate a wheelchair-accessible van and money for his care.

Now, his elementary school is in need. Students at Goynes STEM Academy in the northwest Valley are getting hands-on experience thanks to science teacher Kelley Richard and special needs teacher Julie Maziarz.

“We were looking for afterschool clubs,” recounted Richard. “A lot of these kids think that all their food comes from the supermarket, and now, they get so excited when they can come out and pull up a carrot,” said Maziarz.

But, there’s a challenge. Many of the students at the school are in wheelchairs, and while staff can wheel them to the garden edge, it’s difficult to take them inside of it.

“I feel kind of bad that they get to watch us do it, and they won’t even get to do it,” said student Trey Nelson.

“My students pretty much have to stay like right here on the perimeter, and we bring the garden stuff to them,” described Maziarz, “but I just want them to be able to come, and we want pathways through orchard.”

Principal Brandi March explained school funding is tight.

“We really rely on the donations of our community to really do the extra enrichment activities that we all want to do with our students.”

The need for paving to make the garden wheelchair accessible was heard by Clark County District Court Judge Jacqueline Bluth. She has a special connection to the school: as a prosecutor, she handled the case against a mother who abused her baby. That baby is now 10-year-old Joel. He and his adoptive mother, Paula Cheney, remain a part of Bluth’s life.

“Paula had called me and explained to me how special this garden was and how wonderful it was for Joel and some of the children in his special needs class but that they were having a lot of difficulty with the wheelchairs,” said Bluth.

Before she was appointed to be a judge this year, Bluth started a GoFundMe so Paula and Joel could get a wheelchair-accessible van. Donations poured in, and the I-Team was there as the owner of Par 3 Landscaping donated it.

Now, Bluth has a message from another family.

“Before I was a judge, the Cranebules reached out to me and said what can we do? And so, landscaping is what they do.” The family owns GTI Landscape & Maintenance.

“They have offered to pave this entire thing and get everything ready so kids like Joel can have access to things every kid can,” she said.

The teachers and students are looking forward to more inclusivity in the special garden.

“I think it’s gonna be really amazing so that everyone can do it,” said student Connor Wachter.

But their work isn’t over. The teachers are trying to make the garden more sensory by creating plant beds that are raised for the children in wheelchairs. They also need shade.

If you would like to donate, please visit Goynes’ Garden Enhancement donation page.

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