Seeing is learning | MUSK

Imagine your eyesight is so bad that even the big “E” on the eye chart is blurry – not to mention the other smaller letters.

Now imagine that you are a child. Without another frame of reference, you don’t even realize that the “E” needs to have crisp, crisp lines. You cannot decipher everything the teacher puts on the board, and you cannot understand why other children can. School may start to seem like it’s just not for you.

In 2012, the non-profit group Vision to learn set out to provide glasses to children in underserved schools in the hopes that improving their vision would help them improve their grades.

Now, with the encouragement and support of the local community, led by Henry J. Blackford III, the group is embarking on a pilot program in elementary schools in Charleston County.

Since the launch of the program
in Charleston County:

Children screened: 1778

Failed screening: 647 (36%)

Children examined to date: 116

Prescribed glasses: 91

The Medical University of South Carolina is supporting this pilot year by funding a mobile examination van – essentially, an ophthalmologist’s practice on wheels.

The process begins when the Vision To Learn program manager or optician selects all the children in a school, unless their parents have opted out. Then, the students referred by the initial screening are scheduled to visit the Vision To Learn eye care team when it comes to the school with its mobile clinic. Inside the mobile clinic, an optometrist performs eye exams to determine if the child needs glasses. If so, students can choose their mount on site.

A few weeks later, the team returns to adjust each child, and the children leave with new and free glasses. The optometrist also provides referrals to several providers around town for children in need of follow-up care. The team can examine 15 to 18 students each day.

Getting glasses for a child who cannot see may seem like an obvious solution, but many children in low-income communities have not seen an ophthalmologist. In California, for example, two-thirds of the Medi-Cal (California version of Medicaid) students Vision To Learn helped had not received any eye care in the previous four years.

Also, said Joe Venzie, optician at Vision To Learn, parents tend to keep their kids closer to home these days and use more tablets and phones, so they don’t necessarily notice too. quickly that their children cannot see far. He and optometrist Catherine Kirby, OD, recently examined a child whose vision was so poor that the large “E” was blurry.

“They don’t know what they’re missing,” Venzie said.

Optician Joe Venzie asks a student to place her forehead against the bar so that she can take a photo of her eyes. In addition to typical optician tasks, such as helping patients choose their frames and making sure glasses fit properly, Venzie soothes anxious children and engages with those awaiting their turn with the optometrist.

Many children are nervous when getting into the van because they don’t know what to expect, they said. A recent child seemed worried about reading the eye chart for her, Kirby said. But as she passed through the lenses to correct her vision, he suddenly came to life. Turns out he wasn’t nervous reading the board. He just couldn’t see it.

Most of the children Kirby has seen so far have never had glasses or had older broken glasses, and so they haven’t worn them for two or three years, she said. She likes being able to intervene in the lives of these children and possibly change the trajectory of their school career.

“This will prepare them for long term success,” she said.

This is precisely the interest of MUSC in helping the pilot project, said Andrew Eiseman, MD., Chairman of MUSC Storm Eye Institute.

“Our main interest is to help children see so that they can learn,” he said.

Researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles and Johns Hopkins University separately examined the effect of receiving glasses on children’s scores and standardized tests and found that students’ scores improved afterwards. have received their glasses.

“The idea is to reach out to children who would otherwise likely not benefit from eye care to provide them with a free screening test and a pair of glasses to improve their learning ability. The mantra is, “If you can’t see you can’t learn,” Eiseman said. “MUSC, including our senior management, our children’s hospital and the Storm Eye Institute, all agree with this philosophy 100%. ”

a box of frames is placed on a table while waiting for a child to choose them
A selection of colorful frames is available for children.

Caroline Brown, MUSC’s director of external affairs, said MUSC’s support during the pilot year is to tackle health disparities. Patrick Cawley, MD., CEO of MUSC Health System and Vice President of Health Affairs, University, agreed.

“This is a great opportunity to help students who for years have gone without basic eye care to the detriment of their academic success. Every child deserves the opportunity to reach their full academic and wellness potential, ”said Cawley. “This program fits perfectly with our mission to improve continuity of care for children in need across the region, and we look forward to working with other community eye care providers to address this important need for children.” of our community.

During its decade of activity across the country, Vision To Learn has found that 87% of its students are children of color and 89% live in poverty. Most of them have not seen an ophthalmologist. A solution as simple as glasses, provided at the start of a child’s school career, can help change a child’s performance in school, which in turn has a ripple effect on everything from the child’s self-esteem for the possibilities that open up after school.

“We are delighted to provide services to students in the Charleston area,” said Ann Hollister, President of Vision To Learn. “By offering free eye exams at school, Vision To Learn is helping students get the glasses they need to be successful in school and in life. ”

The Storm Eye Institute has in the past provided screening services in small-scale schools. The Lions Club also focuses on vision and offers screenings in schools. But Eiseman said the needs far exceed what local groups have been able to provide.

“There are so many needs that even with Vision To Learn and Lions and Storm Eye continuing their programs, there are still more children who need this service,” he said.

A van is adorned with graphics promoting the non-profit group Vision to Learn and the support provided by MUSC Health, MUSC Children's Health and the MUSC Storm Eye Institute
The mobile clinic visits a primary school in September.

Vision To Learn completed his exams at Sanders-Clyde Elementary on the Charleston Peninsula and was at North Charleston Elementary on Monday. One by one, the kids got into the van and underwent the typical eye exam – with the addition of some awesome kid jokes – then got to choose the frames they liked best. The van will be back in about a month with the glasses finished, and Venzie will make sure a good fit for each child.

In Sanders-Clyde, more than 30 students were referred to a list of potential providers in the city for more comprehensive exams.

Seventy-eight Sanders-Clyde students will receive new glasses in a few weeks. These are 78 children who will realize that, yes, you can see individual leaves on the trees. You can see the ball across the field. You can see the letters on the eye chart. And yes, you can see what the teacher is writing on the board.

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