Lions partners with Hermiston School District to provide new vision screenings

<p>Volunteers Becky Holmes, left, and Jenna Evans, right, screen children for vision problems at Desert View Elementary.</p>

The Hermiston School District said good-bye to traditional vision screenings this year in favor of a new high-tech, faster alternative.

Instead of requiring students to recite letters ranging in size and direction, students, instead, had to sit and look into a camera. Hermiston Lions Director Bev Bridgewater said using what is called an auto-refractor, technicians from the Oregon Lions Sight and Hearing Foundation examined nearly every Hermiston student in kindergarten through eighth grades for possible eye issues this week.

Bridgewater said, during the exams, technicians sat about two to three feet away from the students and used the special device to focus on the student’s pupil. Once the device locked onto that portion of the student’s eye, it took a picture and processed that image to determine whether the child had one or more of 13 eye problems it is programmed to detect. Those eye problems range from the milder issues of astigmatism to the more serious eye conditions that could lead to blindness.

The whole process, Bridgewater said, usually took no longer than 10 seconds per student.

“With two cameras, we could do a whole class in about five to seven minutes,” she said. “We were done by noon at all but one school.”

Bridgewater said the image results went on reports that parents can take to an eye doctor as a referral.

“We weren’t diagnosing anyone,” she said. “We can’t do that, but (parents) can use the list as a referral. It lists all the issues right there on that page.”

If a student’s family can’t afford an eye doctor, Bridgewater said, parents are also welcome to submit the report to the local Lions Club, which may be able to offer additional services to that family. She said the report also goes in the student’s file at his or her school.

“I suspect we will get some requests for assistance with this,” Bridgewater said to her fellow Lions at their last meeting on Wednesday. “It seemed to go really well.”

Bridgewater said the new auto-refractor provides more accurate results. With the old chart system, technicians were unable to accurately say whether students need glasses or not.

Bridgewater said examiners saw a greater number of students with eye problems than that of the state average, but she feels that is because this type of eye exam has never been offered to school district students before. She said she didn’t have exact numbers, but at one particular elementary school, approximately 13 to 14 students were reported to need additional vision services.

Lion Carol Clupny said she was impressed by how fast the students were able to cycle through and how efficient the process was, despite the fact that it was the first time the Lions used the new device. She said she was also impressed that they were able to screen some of the students with special needs using the tool.

Bridgewater also noted that the technicians were very impressed by how polite the students were as they moved through the process.

This year, according to a new law enacted in July, all students are required to submit proof of a vision screening within 120 days of enrollment with the district. Because of the partnership with the Hermiston Lions, the district could provide the exams in the schools.

“Overall, it was a great partnership,” Jon Mishra, executive director of special programs in the HSD, said. “We appreciate the Lions and volunteers who assisted in the screening. The innovative screening process was a huge benefit as the technology provided an accurate overall picture that the previous methods were not able to detect.”

Mishra said district administrators will notify families of screening results.

Bridgewater said the cost of the eye screenings was covered by grants and other funding from the district. She said, however, for other schools or districts interested, the screenings only cost about $100 a day. People who are interested in hearing more about the service can contact Bridgewater at bbridge@oregontrail.net.

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