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All Aboard the Vision Bus

Valerie Alker

Some studies indicate the rate of astigmatism among Hispanic children of Mexican descent is higher than in the  general population.  In young children, astigmatism, along with other vision problems, can go undetected.  This can set some kids up for failure in school.    

To help tackle this problem the Naples Children & Education Foundation launched its “Children’s Vision Initiative” at Title 1 schools in Collier County.  It begins with the Vision Bus, an RV converted to a rolling eye clinic with all the bells and whistles.   

Kids squirm in the waiting area in the front.  There’s the “optical shop”  where a trained optician helps  them choose the right frame for their face and prescription.   And in the back, there’s a state of the art exam room. 

Avalon Elementary School in Naples is on the Vision Bus route.   Ten-year-old Julian is waiting to get fitted for his first pair of glasses.  He’s far-sighted.  He’s been  dealing with his poor vision in a manner familiar to many with this problem.

Credit Valerie Alker

"I just try to back away,” he said.  “Because sometimes when I get to TV I lose my sense of seeing so sometimes I just get back on the couch.”

All 470 students at Avalon were screened.  Julian is one of 82 who needed corrective lenses.    School Councilor Jen Johansen said it’s very important to screen kids for vision problems  early.

“Depending on their developmental level some might not even be sure that it’s a vision problem because they have nothing to compare it to when they’re little,” she said.  “And some may be too embarrassed or shy to say anything.”

The Naples Children & Education Foundation, or NCEF,  is screening every child in Collier County attending a Title 1 School -  schools where the majority of students qualify for free or subsidized lunch.     In Collier County that’s 20,000  kids in grades K thru 12.  If the numbers at Avalon reflect the norm about  20 percent  need some sort of vision correction.  NCEF’s Maria Jimenez said some have been coping in ways that could be harmful.

“We have found that many, many children may be sharing glasses with someone else in the household, or brothers or sisters or cousins,”.   “So there isn’t a whole lot of awareness that prescriptions are very specific to a particular condition.”

Dr. Jordan Brooks is the optometrist doing the thorough exam on kids who were identified as needing glasses during the screenings.  He said he’s been surprised by the number of high prescriptions. 

Credit Valerie Alker

“Patients with a lot of astigmatism, a lot of nearsightedness,” he said.  “Or sometimes patients have a difference in one eye compared to the other which can cause lazy eye or amblyopia and it’s important to catch that when they’re younger.”

To make sure everyone sees their best every day at school each child receives two pair of eyeglasses, one pair remains in the classroom.  

NCEF’s Maria Jimenez says the Vision Bus is slated to make its rounds annually. 

“The idea is to triage as many as kids a possible get them the visual aids that they need and continue with them and follow-up in the upcoming years.”

That’s because as kids grow, their eyes change and so do their prescriptions.

The $1.5 million Children’s Vision Initiative is one of two supported by  NCEF.  The other is the Pediatric Dental Center housed at Edison College in Naples.  It has a long waiting list for services.   Jimenez says community partners are welcome.  The  Foundation’s signature fundraiser,  the Naples Winter Wine Festival,  is the last weekend in January. 

Valerie Alker hosts All Things Considered. She has been a Reporter/Producer and program host at WGCU since 1991. She reports on general news topics in Southwest Florida and has also produced documentaries for WGCU-TV’s former monthly environmental documentary programs In Focus on the Environment and Earth Edition. Valerie also helps supervise WGCU news interns and contributes to NPR programs.