Most learning during childhood is visual, and healthy vision is critical to success in the classroom. Yet, one in 20 preschoolers – and one in four school-age children – is affected by vision problems, according to Prevent Blindness America. Despite that, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention finds that fewer than 15 percent of preschool children will visit an eye care professional before starting school.
That’s why Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) and community partner Conexus are working together to eliminate poor vision as a barrier to children’s learning and success. On September 27, Conexus provided free eye screenings to preschoolers and second graders at Mount Vernon Woods Elementary School in Alexandria.
This pilot partnership with Conexus was made possible because of Mount Vernon Woods’ status as one of two Community Schools benefiting from community partnerships in Fairfax County. The Department of Neighborhood and Community Services (NCS) played a key role in establishing and provides ongoing funding for community schools through Opportunity Neighborhoods, a county-wide initiative between communities, schools and local government.
For the eye screenings at Mount Vernon Woods, Conexus employed VisioCheck, a safe and easy way to identify vision problems such as nearsightedness, farsightedness and astigmatism. The non-invasive technology simply requires children to look at a handheld device for about five to 10 seconds while the device takes photos and measurements of their eyes. Screening results are provided to the school and parents, with instructions to follow up with an eye doctor if necessary.
NCS Prevention Manager Jesse Ellis, who witnessed the screenings, praises the ease of the technology and the importance of early intervention services, stating, “Early on, if we’re able to identify where kids need help, it really can make a big difference.”
United Community is the lead community partner at Mount Vernon Woods and employs a full-time Community School Coordinator to assist school staff in building out and coordinating these efforts with community partners.
“Community schools in Fairfax are one strategy we use to support families through our Opportunity Neighborhoods efforts,” Mr. Ellis says. “The presence of the site coordinator at the school significantly enhances follow-up care for the students. There’s a real difference as a result of having that designated point person.”