What if, right now, you could do one thing that would positively impact a student’s academic performance? Would you do it? What is that one thing, you ask? It’s helping students get the eye exams and glasses they need so they can focus on schoolwork, see the board and be able to read their textbooks. Vision problems are a huge barrier to learning. If you can’t see well, it’s hard to be a good student. Undiagnosed or untreated vision problems may result in delayed reading and poorer school performance. That’s understandable as these students can rapidly grow frustrated, bored, develop behavior problems, and feel isolated from their classmates.
Children’s vision health in the United States is considered by many to be a public health emergency. According to the National Vision Commission on Vision and Health, only 17% of children with families earning less than 200% of FPL (Family Poverty Level) have seen an eye care provider (compared to 23% from more affluent families); uninsured children are three times as likely to go without eyeglasses when needed; 24% of parents did not follow up for a vision exam due to lack of financial resources; and 15% of Asian, 19% of black, and 16% of Hispanic children have visited an eye care provider compared to 23% of white children.
Here in Kalamazoo, almost 1 in 5 children failed a school vision screening last year. So what does this mean? The child needs a follow up vision exam with an optometrist to determine why they failed. It may be that they had glasses but weren’t wearing them that day, perhaps because they were lost or broken. Or, the child is experiencing a change in vision that is common in the elementary years. This means the child needs glasses to read. Or perhaps there are other eye problems that need to be addressed.
When it comes to vision care, CIS’s goal is to follow up with all families of children who failed the vision screening to ensure that they get an exam and, if needed, glasses. Why is this help even needed? Frequently, a family may have Medicaid or My Child insurance which pays for glasses but if the child has broken or lost two pairs in a year, they may have to wait many months before the glasses can be replaced. For some of our children, this could mean losing half a year of focused, productive learning. For other families with private health insurance, large deductibles can pose a barrier. For uninsured families, the cost is insurmountable. CIS is able to assist families in all of these instances, whether it’s working with the family to navigate through the health care maze, determine which optometrists accepts their insurance, or assisting with scheduling and assuring students get to their appointments. In cases of financial need, CIS is able to tap the Bernard Palchick Vision Fund, and pay for exams and glasses. Last year, CIS funded exams and eyeglasses for 221 students in Kalamazoo Public Schools.
Over the years, CIS has created a system for eye care, assuring that students who fail the vision screening get the follow up and resources they need. Last year, CIS site teams followed up with over 625 students who failed their vision screening. This coordination is, as you might imagine, a tremendous undertaking of human/financial resources—following up with teachers and students, calling parents, assisting with paperwork, and doing what it takes to bridge the gap between an identified need—in this case, vision care—and ultimately connecting the student to the right vision care provider.
It’s worth it, because students receive the vision care they need to be successful. Last school year, a fourth grade student who received glasses as a result of the work of her CIS Site Coordinator, jumped three reading levels. Glasses are no small thing. For this child or any child.
We are grateful to our CIS friends who support the vision fund and have allowed CIS to build and sustain a system of care for kids who need it most by putting the Jen DeWaeles, Derek Millers, Stacy Salters, Gulnar Husains, Deborah Yarbroughs, and other dedicated site coordinators into the Kalamazoo Public Schools.
Because of you, a clearer, better vision of the world awaits.