New program helping Palatine students see brighter future
Students in need received complete vision exams and glasses without leaving their Palatine school Thursday through a pilot program funded by a suburban service organization and a national retailer.
After an initial screening, about 15 fifth-graders at Virginia Lake Elementary School in Palatine were selected for the exams in a small section of the school library that was converted into eye doctor's office.
Among the students examined, ophthalmologist Christopher Wood of Northwest Eye Physicians in Arlington Heights said he found two students who are legally blind from a distance. Several others had different vision impairments.
Palatine Township Elementary District 15 Assistant Superintendent of Student Services Susan Gehring said Thursday's effort should yield multiple benefits for the children.
"There is such a link to being able to see clearly and being able to do academics," Gehring said. "We want to make sure that vision and hearing are both addressed before considering that a child might have an actual learning problem."
The Rotary Club of Arlington Heights and Walmart on Rand Road in Palatine brought the pilot program to District 15. Each committed $1,500 to pay for the glasses and contributed volunteer professionals to help the students who qualify as financial hardship.
Wood, who hopes the vision program can expand to other schools, said children must have a full eye exam in kindergarten and that fifth grade is a good time for another complete look.
His colleague, optometrist Margaret Albertson, said a child's lack of attention at school can be a symptom of not seeing properly. Most of the pupils she encountered Thursday were nearsighted with some astigmatism, so it's likely boards they read in the classroom appear blurry, she said.
"So, obviously that would impact their learning quite a bit," Albertson said.
For students who needed glasses, they got to select from 137 frames spread over a table in the Virginia Lake library. Walmart vision center manager Dawn Rodriguez said she plans to bring the glasses to the school and fit and adjust them for the children there.
"That way the parents don't have to come to the store," Rodriguez said. "They don't have to worry about not having transportation there to pick it up or anything like that."
According to the most recent Illinois State Board of Education report card, 64% of Virginia Lake's 745 students are low-income. The school serves kindergarten through sixth grade.
Assistant Principal Alison Friedman said she was gratified when she learned the vision exams were coming to her school.
"To see this and to hear our fifth-graders specifically are getting their vision checked, that is one of the most heartwarming things ever," Friedman said.