Partnership for Children teams up to provide eye exams to 5,000 elementary school kids

When Edison Elementary School nurse Linda Barbod learned in June that the City Heights Partnership for Children and the UCSD Shiley Eye Center were teaming up to provide free vision exams for thousands of children at neighborhood campuses, she felt as though Christmas had arrived some six months early.

“This is beyond my wildest dreams,” Barbod said of the program that will result in every elementary school child in the Hoover High cluster who needs glasses getting a pair for free.

The program is targeting the 10 elementary schools that are part of the cluster. The first screenings took place at Adams Elementary on May 15. Screenings at the last four remaining campuses, Cherokee Point, Normal Heights, Rosa Parks and Edison, were scheduled to wrap up by June 29. By then, some 5,000 children will have had their vision checked with hand-held auto refractors, a computer controlled machine that measures whether glasses are needed. Children diagnosed with less than 20-20 vision will be getting a second appointment for a full, dilated eye exam with a pediatric optometrist at the UCSD EyeMobile. Then they will be fitted for glasses.

An estimated 1,300 pairs of glasses will be distributed for free, said Iliana Molina, the EyeMobile’s director. The spectacles will be ready in September. If a child is in a new school by then, the glasses will be sent the new campus.

The EyeMobile had run a similar program, funded largely through the First 5 effort, but that was confined to preschoolers, Molina said.

Why bother?

“It’s absolutely crucial that children can see,” Molina said. “If they can’t see, they can’t read. If they can’t read, they’re not going to participate in school.”

“It’s a small investment,” she said.

Kim Kossyta is the principal at Rowan Elementary School in the Fairmount Park neighborhood of City Heights. Screening of some 280 children there took place in early June. “I was ecstatic,” she said.

The exams took about a half a day. All were done in the classroom. “Parents were very thankful,” Kossyta said.

Barbod said that when she heard the Partnership was setting up exams, she gathered and reviewed health records for all 600 or so kids at Edison to see which ones had shown symptoms of vision problems in the past. “I’m just really passionate about this,” Barbod said. “When someone offers you a service like this, you’d be crazy not to take advantage of it.”

Like most campuses in City Heights, Edison’s enrollment is almost entirely composed of children from families living in poverty. Families that often can’t afford for their children to have regular checkups. Families that often have trouble paying the bills, let alone paying for a pair of prescription glasses.

“We’re very focused here on academics,” Barbod said. “But how does anyone expect a child to learn if they can’t see.”

Kossyta said that if a child already has a pair of glasses, he or she will get a second pair for free through the program.

The City Heights Partnership for Children is a grassroots organization that describes itself as “a community-based cross-sector working group focused on a common agenda: supporting children & youth, in and out of school, from cradle to college or career.” It represents a community-wide recognition that it takes more than just schools to support and educate children.

It includes nonprofits, community-based organizations and schools. Among its partners are Price Charities, La Maestra Family Clinic, the JP Morgan Chase Foundation, the county Department of Education and the San Diego Police Department.

Its goals are to ensure that children in City Heights are socially and academically prepared for kindergarten; that children are supported in and out of school so they are proficient readers by the third grade; that students achieve eighth-grade algebra proficiency before they enter high school; that children get the support they need to graduate from high school; and that youth can successfully launch into college, work, or training once they graduate high school.

“This is just the beginning of the kind of work that the Partnership will be doing for the children of City Heights,” said Kossyta, who is an active participant in the Partnership.

David Ogul is the City Heights Life editor