August 31, 2016, Boston – On Tuesday August 30, 2016, New England College of Optometry (NECO) once again offered vision screening to children entering Kindergarten at the Boston Public Schools “Countdown to Kindergarten” event at the Boston Children’s Museum. During the interactive event, faculty and students from NECO conducted vision screenings for Boston’s youngest students. Drs. Fuensanta Vera Diaz and Hilary Gaiser were joined by pediatric residents Kristin Kerber and Katie Hannis and NECO students Lauren Rineer, Sarah Miller, Alicia Hanley, Caitlyn Wong, Marc Deeley, Karlee Muller, Rupa Patel, Karen Choi, and Adriana Ferreira. The vision screenings were facilated by outreach team Kellie Cuadrado and Paulette Tattersall from NECO’s clinical affiliate, New England Eye. Overall, 95 children were screened and 25 were referred for a comprehensive eye exam.
“Community partnership is a big part of NECO’s DNA and we have participated in this event for over 10 years. It is a relaxed way for the young child to experience a vision screening. It allows parents to ask questions and gain knowledge about their child’s vision and how it may change as their child grows and progresses in school,” says Dr. Gary Chu, Senior Director of Public Health and Community Collaborations.
New England College of Optometry has collaborated with the Boston Public Schools (BPS) for over 25 years. The collaboration began in 1989 to assist school nurses in achieving their MA State requirements for children’s vision screening. According to the Massachusetts (MA) State Law, a child is required to complete a vision screening prior to entering kindergarten.
NECO faculty and first year optometry students travel daily throughout the school year to local schools and preschools. The program now provides vision screenings to over 7,000 children annually and allows faculty and students to give back to the community and to show our commitment in improving the learning environment for students.
Over the past 28 years, the NECO vision screening program has screened over 100,000 children, 50,000 of them Boston Public School children. During the last school year, NECO doctors and students screened 4,418 preschool and kindergarten Boston Public School students at their schools, with 1,058 being referred for a comprehensive eye exam.
Additionally, NECO and BPS have collaborated to provide training and information sessions for BPS staff. NECO faculty have conducted vision screening training to BPS paraprofessionals and school nurses, and on-going training to BPS Teachers of the Visually Impaired. NECO has also facilitated collaboration between the Massachusetts Commission for the Blind and BPS to expedite care and assistive devices for children who have vision disabilities and require specialized low vision care.
“This is a vital partnership in existence since 1989,” explains Maureen Starck, Assistant Director Health Services, Boston Public Schools. “Our collaboration, foci and services provided have grown over the years, responding to the needs of our students and families. This service is invaluable to our students and families, and to our BPS school nurses in addressing untreated vision issues in young children which could lead to difficulties with learning and blindness later in life.”
Vision disorders are the most prevalent handicap for children. Children with vision problems are more likely to avoid schoolwork, perform below their potential, have difficulties with hand/eye coordination, and experience difficulty maintaining attention to tasks. Additionally, they may suffer from headaches, and they may exhibit behavioral issues resulting in a lack of success in the classroom.
Research has shown that it takes 18 months (on average) for a Massachusetts school child to receive an eye exam after being referred from a vision screening. Learning and development can be impeded when vision issues are present and left untreated. To help alleviate this time lag, and to raise awareness of the importance of good vision in learning and development, New England College of Optometry introduced a mobile vision clinic in 2010 called On-Sight.
NECO’s On-Sight mobile clinic travels directly to schools and preschools, providing comprehensive eye care by removing barriers to access. In the past five years, over 2,600 Pre-K through Grade 5 Boston Public School students have received eye care through On-Sight at 30 schools and BPS Early Education centers. In addition, a similar number of Boston preschool children have also received eye care. 65% of the children seen on the mobile clinic have never had an eye exam. To date, 1,100 pairs of eyeglasses have been given to Boston Public School children at no charge, due to the fundraising efforts of NECO. Of these, 631 students were recommended by the eye doctor to wear their eyeglasses “full- time”, and 275 students required additional follow-up with an eye doctor within 6 months, or immediately, due to their vision condition.
About New England College of Optometry
New England College of Optometry is an independent graduate college of optometry that educates students for careers in eye care delivery, research and education. NECO was founded in 1894 as the Klein School of Optics, and is the oldest continuously operating school of optometry in the United States.
NECO prepares the next generation of eye care providers, educators, leaders, and innovators through a rigorous curriculum and extensive clinical experiences. NECO fosters an ethos of inquiry, collaboration and life-long learning through programs that address the ever-changing health care system and new technologies for diagnosis, treatment, and management of vision and visual disorders related to disease. Through a vast network of clinical affiliations, our students put patient care first, providing vision care to children, older adults, the homeless, and individuals with disabilities through our mobile eye clinic, satellite clinics in schools, homeless shelters, community health centers, and VA medical centers.
Media Contact: Ingrid Hoogendoorn, Director of Communications