ST. PAUL, Minn. (WCCO) — Hundreds of thousands of kids in St. Paul will soon be getting a better education. It’s not because their teachers are doing anything different. It’s because they’ll be able to see the board and their books better.
Over the last few years, vision tests have been phased out at many public schools in the metro.
Allina Health’s Phillips Eye Institute Foundation says 25 percent of students have vision problems that affect their grades and daily routine. The Early Youth Eye care (EYE) program helps amend that.
“If you can’t see, you can’t learn,” said Cody Engelhaupt, program director. “It’s important to us to identify the kids who aren’t able to see, notify teachers, notify parents and help them access vision care.”
The EYE Program has been in Minneapolis Public Schools since 2008. Starting this year, it’s expanded its free vision tests into St. Paul Public Schools. Next year, 13,000 kids in St. Paul will be screened — 14,000 more will undergo eye tests in Minneapolis schools.
The program screens children in kindergarten, first, third, fifth and sixth grades. It will provide comprehensive eye care until eighth grade for students.
“We have children who have been enrolled in our program as kindergarteners and we’re still following and coordinating and funding their care,” Engelhaupt said.
When students need additional testing, a case manager from the foundation contacts parents for a follow up. That’s how Rodney Lewis found out his son Isaiah couldn’t see well out of his right eye.
“They told me there was something really serious going on with his eye. I had no idea,” Lewis said. “It’s not lazy eye, but basically what it was the nerve from his eye to his brain didn’t connect in his right eye. I didn’t notice it because the left eye was doing all the work and he didn’t say anything.”
The program connected Lewis with an ophthalmologist at Health Partners. The doctor said Isaiah was almost blind in one eye, but it was correctable. He now wears an eye patch on his left eye to strengthen the nerve in his right eye. Isaiah also got a pair of glasses. Phillips Eye Institute Foundation covers all those costs.
“It makes me very happy to know that hopefully one day he’ll have normal eyesight,” Lewis said.
The EYE Initiative is a comprehensive program, it provides transportation for follow up appointments, as well as free eye care, including glasses and even transportation to the eye doctor.