KAILUA-KONA — Innovations Public Charter School third-grade students lined up at the school office for vision screening by Kona Rotary Club volunteers Wednesday morning.
Brian Asbjornson administered a six-part screening, and results were recorded. It is not a vision exam, rather a tool used to determine whether a referral to an optometrist is warranted.
He said third grade is the optimal age to screen for vision problems.
“This is when kids are reading for knowledge and information. It is a critical time to be able to read and see what’s on the board in the classroom,” said Asbjornson. “Our goal is to let them engage in the classroom.”
Asbjornson said they refer up to 15% of the students screened for eye exams.
Rotary volunteer Ray Wofford has a special affinity for the vision program.
“I was blind as a bat. I couldn’t learn anything. In kindergarten and first grade, I was considered a slow learner. I had no idea I couldn’t see. It was normal for me,” recalled Wofford.
He eventually got his eyes checked and received his glasses.
“It changed my whole life,” he said. “I went from the slowest to the top part of my class.”
Wofford explained Rotary is all about service to meet the needs of the community.
“It’s a small effort that covers a broad spectrum for kids,” added volunteer Carol Ann Von Hake.
After getting his or her vision checked, each keiki was given a dictionary.
The distribution of dictionaries to the keiki is a perfect match with the vision screening. The project is nationwide Rotary project. The organization’s mission has been to give every third-grade student in the nation a dictionary.
On Wednesday, the students at Innovations sat in a group and learned how to use the dictionary after their screening. They were eager to explore their books.
Rotary member Tom Fine explained the inception of the 14-year-old vision screening program.
“The Department of Education took away funding for vision screening. One of the leaders of the (Rotary) Hawaii District was a former optometrist,” said Fine. “He said, why don’t we do it, and developed six simple tests to perform to see if the child needs to go to the optometrist.”
Innovations Student Services Coordinator Tawna Iaela has witnessed the success of the project first hand.
“We love it. We’ve been able to identify kids outside of third grade, seeing things in the classroom,” she said.
When they suspect a vision problem they bring that child to the third grade event for screening.
“We had a first grader that was complaining of headaches and being able to see the board. She got checked and needed glasses and is doing much better now,” she said.
According to the National Center for Children’s Vision and Eye Health, vision plays an important role in children’s physical, cognitive, and social development. More than one in five preschool-age children enrolled in Head Start have a vision disorder.
Uncorrected vision problems can impair child development, interfere with learning, and even lead to permanent vision loss; early detection and treatment are critical. Visual functioning is a strong predictor of academic performance in school-age children, and vision disorders of childhood may continue to affect health and well-being throughout the adult years.
Asbjornson said getting glasses and being able to see “will change the trajectory of learning.”