Monday, October 20, 2008

Vision Screening

Today and tomorrow I'm helping with the vision screening at the elementary school. Every year, the Lions bring in a huge made-over RV (similar to the ones you might give blood in) and spend two whole days at the school screening every single child from kindergarten to fifth grade. They also visit other schools in the area and perform this same service. If a child needs glasses and the parents can't afford them, they will also help with that cost (but they can't go to the parents, the parents have to ask them). This is a pretty low-income area, especially when it comes to the family demographic. Both elementary schools in town get extra federal money because such a high percentage (I want to say something like 90% at our school, which is lower-income than the other school) of the students are eligible for free or reduced price lunches based on the parents' income.

Last year I helped but I was "crowd control". This year I'm actually performing the screening. I honestly don't know whether to be thankful or appalled. I guess I'm a lot of both. I'm thankful that, unlike so many others, we have good health insurance and I never have to let financial considerations come before health considerations for my family. All of the boys have at least 20/20 eyesight and I know this for a fact because they have actually been to an optometrist to be checked.

I'm appalled because what I experienced first-hand today is a pretty strong indictment of our society. MANY of these kids need glasses. Now, you might expect that with the younger grades. This might be the first time they've ever been screened. And you might expect some older kids to score borderline when they were fine last year. However, when a fourth grader comes in, sits down, hunches over and says, "I already know I need glasses," and scores 20/60 OR WORSE!! the train has jumped the tracks somewhere. I would venture to say that there were more kids screened who needed glasses and didn't have them than there were who actually had glasses.

There could be many reasons for this. Maybe the kids aren't covered by any health insurance at all and the parents simply cannot come up with the money. Maybe the parents don't even know there are agencies that will help with the cost or are too proud to access those services. Maybe the parents are ground down by ______and this isn't even making their top ten list of things to worry about right now. Believe it or not, I understand and sympathize with all these possible reasons. I'm sure there are more that are just as valid. However, the simple fact is: It doesn't matter why. It doesn't matter if the fault lies with parents or schools or our health care system. What matters is that this many kids are coming to school every day (some for years) primed to fail because they can't read the blackboard. What matters is that we, as a society, are saying this is okay with us because we allow it to continue. And, just to be clear, I'm no longer just talking about kids needing glasses. I'm also talking about the whole range of health services that are evidently inaccessible to way too many children in the United States.

All in all, it was a pretty depressing day. The only "consolation" for me is that, after this screening is over, it won't happen again until next year, when I'm sure many of these same children will - SHOCKER! - still need glasses.


Barb said...

I'm thinking that our presidental candidates should have to do this screening so they can see first hand the types of things that need to get done. You are an angel for volunteering for a very depressing job.

I, Robot said...

I'm pretty much convinced now that a country which doesn't provide comprehensive healthcare coverage for all children is basically saying it doesn't care about the future (or the children).