Approximately 200 sixth graders and 40 fourth graders had their eyes examined at their respective schools by Sight Savers America at no charge to the schools or the parents. SSA is a nonprofit organization established in 1997 and based in Pelham that gives school-based vision screenings through its Vision Check program. Thanks to a grant provided by the Walker Area Community Foundation, students at the schools were able to have their eyes examined at no cost.
“We are using a portable auto refractor to take measurements of the children’s eyes, and we’re able to go ahead and tell the school nurse on the spot whether the child passed or failed the vision screening,” said Jennifer Williams, senior manager at SSA. “This auto refractor is a state-of-the-art device that is able to measure the eye on cylinder, axis and sphere, so we’re able to see things that an eye chart can’t see.”
The Plusoptix auto refractor screens for several vision problems, such as astigmatism, anisocoria, hyperopia, anisometropia, corneal reflex abnormalities and myopia. If a child fails a vision screening, their guardians are notified.
“If they have private insurance, we’re more of a resource for them. We can direct them to an eye care home, if they don’t already have one,” Williams said. “If they are uninsured, have Medicaid or ALL Kids state health insurance, then we are actually able to make the appointment for them, make sure they have transportation to get to the doctor and pay for glasses or any necessary treatment if the family isn’t able to do so. ... Any of the kids that fail the vision screening and need to go to the doctor will be referred to somebody here in the area.”
The device not only captures the data in a non-invasive manner, but it also seizes the image and information needed without worrying about the poor cooperation of a child in a time efficient manner. According to information provided by Williams, “Since SSA’s inception, more than 350,000 Alabama children have received comprehensive eye exams, eyeglasses, medications, surgeries and case management support via our Children’s Eye Care Network.”
The Alabama State Department of Education funds vision screening for all kindergarten, second- and fourth-grade public school children in the state.
An email sent by Williams states: “Due to budget cuts, funding is no longer available for fourth grade in Jasper City Schools.”
Williams said in order to fill this gap, SSA offered the screenings to fourth and sixth graders this year in the Jasper City Schools system. The results of these screenings are as follows: T.R. Simmons had 73 students screened with 13 vision referrals; Memorial Park had 86 students screened with 15 vision referrals; West Jasper had 36 students screened with 13 vision referrals; and, Maddox Middle had 190 students screened with 35 vision referrals.
“In order for a child to be successful in school and in life, eye care is something that is very important,” Williams said. “Our mission is to secure the eye care needs of children throughout the state of Alabama and specifically here in Jasper today.”
Tyler Keene with the WACF was on hand Monday taking pictures and speaking with Williams about the program.
“This program was provided from a grant from the Walker Area Community Foundation. ... Sight Savers America is a good organization that the foundation has been partnered with for quite some time now,” Keene said. “This is a great partnership. In our areas of focus, one of them is education, one is health care and another is youth and child. Sight Savers America, along with our grant money, is able to touch three different areas of our focus at the Community Foundation.”
West Jasper Elementary Principal Rita Pilling and the school’s nurse, Hollie Walker, agreed that the screenings are very important for school-aged children and thanked the employees of SSA for their roles in checking the students’ vision.
“We appreciate their involvement in helping students in our area to be able to get the help they need, especially if it has to do with vision or something that would prohibit them from doing their best work at school,” Pilling said. “Mrs. Walker does a great job here as the nurse at West Jasper in making sure that our students’ needs are met, especially those that involve their physical needs.”
Walker added, “There are lots of children who don’t have transportation or who may not even know that they have vision problems, and it’s going to help their grades and everything else. Sight Savers steps in and makes sure that not only do they get the glasses they need, but they also get transportation, appointments made and they actually get seen by a doctor.”
Williams suggested students having their eyes checked every two years unless they’re already under continuous eye care for specific reasons, and in those cases they should go at their doctor’s discretion. She also added that it is recommended for children to have their first eye exam at the age of two.
“We want every child to reach their full potential to have their best vision possible.”