KAILUA-KONA — Innovations Public Charter School third-graders lined up Wednesday morning at the school office for vision screenings by Kona Rotary Club volunteers.
Brian Asbjornson administered a six-part screening, and results were recorded. It is not a vision exam, rather a tool used to determine whether a referral to an optometrist is warranted.
He said third grade is the optimal age to screen for vision problems.
“This is when kids are reading for knowledge and information,” said Asbjornson. “It is a critical time to be able to read and see what’s on the board in the classroom. Our goal is to let them engage in the classroom.”
Asbjornson said they refer up to 15% of the students screened for eye exams.
Rotary volunteer Ray Wofford has a special affinity for the vision program.
“I was blind as a bat. I couldn’t learn anything,” he said. “In kindergarten and first grade, I was considered a slow learner. I had no idea I couldn’t see. It was normal for me.”
Wofford eventually got his eyes checked and got glasses.
“It changed my whole life,” he said. “I went from the slowest to the top part of my class.”
After getting their vision checked, each keiki was given a dictionary. Rotary’s mission has been to give every third-grade student in the nation a dictionary.
On Wednesday, the students at Innovations in Kona sat in a group and learned how to use the dictionary after their screening. They were eager to explore the books.
Rotary member Tom Fine explained the inception of the 14-year-old vision screening program.
“The Department of Education took away funding for vision screening. One of the leaders of the (Rotary) Hawaii District was a former optometrist,” said Fine. “He said, ‘Why don’t we do it,’ and developed six simple tests to perform to see if the child needs to go to the optometrist.”
Innovations student services coordinator Tawna Iaela witnessed the success of the project firsthand.
When teachers or staff at the school suspect a child, no matter the grade, has a vision problem they bring that child to the Rotary screening.
“We had a first-grader that was complaining of headaches and being able to see the board,” Iaela said. “She got checked and needed glasses and is doing much better now.”
Asbjornson said getting glasses and being able to see “will change the trajectory of learning.”
Email Laura Ruminski at firstname.lastname@example.org.