The Lions Clubs of Parksville, Nanoose Bay and Qualicum Bay will offer free vision screenings to Grade 4 and Grade 7 students in local schools beginning this fall, under a pilot project approved by the School District 69 Board of Trustees during its final meeting of the school year.
The board approved a recommendation from Superintendent Rollie Koop during its June 28 meeting in Parksville. The partnership will allow Lions Club volunteers to enter classrooms to provide the non-invasive screenings to determine if students may need follow-up care from an optometrist.
“This is not a (vision) test; it’s a screening,” said Mike Garland of the Parksville Lions Club, who presented the proposal along with Parksville Lions Club president Tom Roy and Zone Chair Mike Orrick at the school board’s previous meeting in May. “It allows an optometrist to take results and be able to discern what type of remedies would be necessary to correct vision imbalance.”
The program has been in place in a number of U.S. states and in some B.C. school districts, said Garland, including the Nanaimo School District. There is no cost to families or to taxpayers, as the Lions Clubs absorb the costs of the small screening machines and provide trained volunteers to administer the screening.
The Lions Club representative noted Island Health, through a provincial program, does a “phenomenal” job of providing vision assistance for newborns up through preschool. But those early childhood screening end when students enter schools.
“Knowing there are some families in our community who simply aren’t able to provide these kinds of opportunities for their own children, this will be a way to assist in identifying some of those issues,” Koop said in his recommendation to the board.
The school’s role in the partnership will be to send out notification letters to families of the students — from a template provided by the Lions — and to have a teacher or school representative present during the screenings, Garland said.
“We want to be as non-intrusive as possible in the delivery of service, for the teachers,” he added. “Possibly piggy-backing on school photo days. It takes less time to do a screening than it does to have a photo taken.”
The screening machine is connected wirelessly to a printer. When a student is identified with a potential vision problem, a printout is generated and given to the teacher or school official, to forward on to the student’s family.
“We keep no personal information on any student,” said Garland. “There’s no personal information loaded up on the machine, nor is any personal information ever owned by any Lions Club member.”
The Lions Club delegation brought one of the screening machines to their May presentation and passed it around for the trustees to check their own eyesight.
The school board’s unanimous approval was for a one-year pilot partnership with the Lions Club. If all parties are satisfied with its outcomes, it could then be extended to future years.
“We look forward to commencing the project in September,” board chair Eve Flynn told Garland and Orrick, who returned to the June meeting to hear the outcome of the vote. “I’m sure your collaboration with the teachers will start very early in the (school) year so we can make it as seamless an experience as possible.”