Kids who can’t see can’t learn.
That’s an intuitive conviction for many educators — and a proven phenomenon for health experts like Phillips Eye Institute Foundation Executive Director Beverly Fritz.
“Sometimes if a child can’t see the whiteboard, they just act out and they get into trouble,” Fritz said. “With what we’ve experienced, when kids get glasses, they start to perform better at school, they behave better and their self-esteem improves.”
The foundation isn’t merely talking about vision problems among schoolchildren, Fritz added, it’s working to ensure that every child in the Twin Cities is able to see well.
This morning, school and foundation leaders have joined See Saint Paul — a program that provides eye screening and follow-up care to more than 1,000 students in St. Paul — at Benjamin E. Mays International Magnet School in St. Paul for an event announcing a major matching grant from the Otto Bremer Foundation.
The program is leading a campaign that seeks to raise $600,000 to cover the expenses as part of a long-term, ambitious campaign working to secure $4 million to sustain the eye care services in Minneapolis and St. Paul for the next 10 years.
A partnership program of the Saint Paul Public Schools Foundation, the Saint Paul Public Schools and the Phillips Eye Institute Foundation, See Saint Paul provides eye screening and follow-up care to 14,000 students in the city’s public schools. The effort provides glasses and surgery to students whose families can’t afford to pay for the treatment.
The See Saint Paul initiative, which started last year in St. Paul, initially provided care to the city’s students in kindergarten, first grade and fifth grade. This year, the program expanded its service to third- and sixth-grade students.
Mike Anderson, executive director of the Saint Paul Public Schools Foundation, said what’s significant about the project isn’t only screening the students, but the guaranteed eye care follow-up, which resolves vision problems quickly.
The earlier a child’s vision problem is detected the better he or she does academically, said Anderson, adding that “it greatly increases the ability of St. Paul Public Schools to effectively determine those kids who actually have vision problems.”
After today’s announcement, Benjamin Mays students are scheduled to go through initial eye screening, conducted by Phillips Eye Institute’s Early Youth Eyecare (EYE) Community Initiative, which is also part of Allina Health.
“Students who have trouble seeing well often struggle in school and you notice it all the time at the elementary school level,” said Kirk Morris, principal of Benjamin Mays, in a statement. “The See Saint Paul campaign and the EYE program are doing a great job addressing that problem.”
Morris added: “The project helps students and families overcome barriers like lack of transportation and insurance that stand in the way of good eye care. Students who can see well are much more effective learners.”
Eye care service started in Minneapolis
The Phillips Eye Institute Foundation began its eye care service in Minneapolis Public Schools in 2008 before stretching its muscles to expand the services into St. Paul Public Schools last year.
From September through March, the foundation’s EYE program provides daily eye screening in both school districts, working with more than 30,000 students a year.
While the screening is free to all students, The Phillips Eye Institute and its Kirby Puckett Eye Mobile cover the cost for only those who can’t afford to pay for glasses, surgery and other follow-up services.
Vision screening requirements vary from state to state, but for Minnesota, it isn’t mandatory for parents to check their children’s vision after the kids are already admitted into the school system.