FORT WAYNE – F, E, L, O, P, Z, D, Savanna Mosby read from the chart, holding a square of paper to her left eye.
The third-grader stopped to squint, adjusted her glasses and then continued to the next line of letters.
D, E, F, P, O, T, and um, E, C, she read.
Good, the nurse said as she checked Savannas name off her list and asked Savanna to join her classmates on the other side of Study Elementarys gymnasium.
Its a two-minute process that can make all the difference in student learning, said Jim Zieba, executive director of the Indiana Optometric Association.
Truly, if a child comes in with an undetected problem, then the child is going to have less of a chance to excel in school, Zieba said. Students dont know that their sight is bad, they just know what they are used to.
Each year, Hoosier students in third, fifth and eighth grade are required to participate in a vision screening exam.
Students are also given a complex vision examination when they enter school as kindergartners or first-graders, Zieba said.
Because of changes to state law, this is the first year that fifth-graders are required to participate.
Mary Hess, Fort Wayne Community Schools health specialist, said the districts fifth-graders have always been part of the exam process.
It seemed like a really long lag time between grade 3 and 8 and the students are really going through a lot of significant growth, Hess said.
FWCS screens about 13,000 students each year.
The free screenings are usually completed by the end of October and are designed to help catch vision issues early – long before they affect student learning, Hess said.
A students vision changes so much, especially when they are young, she said. And if they cant see well, its pretty hard to get a good education.
How it works
Most students will first complete a vision examination in kindergarten or first grade, depending on when they enter the district, Hess said
State law does not require Hoosier students to attend kindergarten, although all districts offer kindergarten programs for eligible students.
The first exam, called a modified clinical technique, is completed by an optometrist or ophthalmologist, Zieba said.
The exam is a series of vision checks that include tests to determine how well a student can see at various distances, how well the eye is able to focus and whether the eyes are working together properly, Zieba said.
The exam also checks for external or internal abnormalities – such as astigmatism. The modified clinical technique is a more intensive screening that checks for developmental problems with the eyes so they dont go undetected, Zieba said.
After the initial screening, students wont be tested again until third grade, unless a teacher or parent contacts the school nurse with a concern, he said.
FWCS students are then tested in third, fifth and eighth grade, this time with the help of a school nurse and a screening machine called PediaVision, Hess said.
The PediaVision machine tests for nearsightedness, farsightedness, pupil size, distance between the eyes and for any abnormalities, said Janelle Miller, a Parkview Health nurse who assists with student screenings.
If the students pupils are too large or too small, then we go back to the charts and test that way, Miller said.
Once the exams have been completed, a letter will be sent to parents outlining any issues, Hess said.
FWCS parents are invited to contact their students school nurses for information about discounts for purchasing glasses, she said.
Some of the districts nurses are members of the National Association of School Nurses and have access to coupons from insurance companies that can provide low-income students with free exams and glasses, Hess explained.
Depending on how complicated the vision problem is will determine how much the exam and glasses cost, she said. If its a really complicated vision problem, it could be several hundred dollars.
The cost for vision screenings outside schools can cost upward of $60 and a $200 bill isnt unusual, Hess said.
Options are available for families who need help paying for students vision care, she added.
A grant from the McMillen Foundation can also help students who need glasses but lost their first pair, she said. School nurses might also be able to help parents find deals on glasses at businesses like LensCrafters.
We really have a very giving community in terms of groups out there willing to help students and make sure we get them the glasses they need, Hess said.