United Way, Wright Center team up to get students glasses

·3 min read

Oct. 18—WILKES-BARRE — Madelyn Tlatenci conceded from behind the face mask that she was a bit scared of wearing prescription eyeglasses, but optometrist Alan Frank assured her she'd be fine, and might even do better in class. She conceded she often has to hold books close to her face to read clearly.

Which is a big goal of the United Way of Wyoming Valley's new See to Succeed program, bringing eye exams and even the selection and fitting of glasses into Wilkes-Barre Area School District building every Monday morning for students who failed a school eye test and might need the clarity corrective lenses provide.

The Wright Center for Community Health teamed with the district and clinicians from Clear Image Optical to provide both eye exams and corrective eye wear to eligible children, paid for with grant money from the Moses Taylor Foundation.

"In more ways then one, they are funding our vision," United Way President and CEO Bill Jones quipped, stressing the double meaning. "See what I did there?"

It may be a bit of a pun, but it's also true. Years ago the local agency decided to focus on ways to make long-term changes to the region by helping children who may not be getting all the support they need to succeed in school.

One of those program, introduced in the 2019-20 school year before the COVID-19 pandemic struck, provided high-tech spot-vision screeners that can catch vision problems regular "read the letter" exams might miss. But that program still required a referral to an outside optometrist to resolve any problems detected.

Thanks to the new program, the optometrist and opticians come to the school ready to help students who fail the state-mandated vision tests, but who may face barriers in getting the help they need to correct their vision. Frank had the usual letter eye chart projected onto a wall, but he also had the elaborate, almost alien-like "phoropter" that lets students test different lens combinations until they see those letters as clearly as possible.

Once Frank determined the lenses needed, the room lights came back on and the student stepped with lens prescription in hand to an array of frame types laid out on a table. Once they pick their frames, the lenses are ordered and they have their new glasses within about a week.

The program was piloted with some students this summer, and Heights-Murray School Nurse Tracey Glynn-Roulinavage — who helped demonstrate the spot vision screeners when the district first got them in 2019 — said the results were impressive.

"One student said "I got better grades because I can see," Glynn-Roulinavage said. Another "was very fidgety" before getting glasses, but "is now more focused" on class work.

According to the United way, as many as 84% or students identified as in need of further evaluation during the annual school vision screening do not receive the follow-up care, usually because of barriers created for low-income families.

For Tlatenci, a set of purple frames initially caught her eye — pun intended — but she shifted to a pair of thin wire-rimmed frames before settling.

Third-grade student Mayoly Garcia Torres seemed hesitant with the mixed shade darker frames she was trying on, until she pulled down her face mask long enough to get a better idea of how they looked on her, and a bit of a smile emerged.

Watching the exams and frame selections, Jones let out a bit of his own spectacle history. In his early 20s, while playing baseball, he missed a catch because he couldn't make out the ball flying toward him, costing his team the game. "My teammates weren't too happy with me for a while," he said. But his father suggested an eye exam, and he started wearing glasses for the first time.

"I think some of these kids don't get glasses just because they don't realize they need them," he said. "This is one of the most important things we do,"

Reach Mark Guydish at 570-991-6112 or on Twitter @TLMarkGuydish

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