Sight For Success: UH Initiative Tackles Vision Challenges for Elementary Students

UH Students Assist Houston School Nurses with Screenings and Outreach

Too many elementary school children who fail the mandatory vision screenings at their schools struggle to get the vision care they need, which can significantly affect their ability to learn and succeed academically.

Research shows 80 percent of learning in a child’s first 12 years comes through the eyes. The University of Houston teamed up with nurses in the Houston Independent School District to enhance vision screening, assist with coordinating vision care and reduce barriers to care through a collaborative approach.

At the end of each school year, approximately 20,000 students in Harris and Fort Bend county schools – about 40 percent of students who failed the vision screening – still haven’t received the help they need.

“If a child fails a screening, the school nurse sends a notification home to the parents, but too many of those notes are disregarded and the student doesn’t see an optometrist,” said Dan Price, Honors College professor.

About 25 percent of all school children in the U.S. have a vision problem that affects learning, and 20 percent need glasses. Studies show children who don’t see well disengage from learning and are more likely to drop out of school.

Sight for Success is a pilot collaboration between the UH College of Nursing, Honors College, College of Optometry and HISD. Trained as state-certified vision and hearing screeners, UH nursing and optometry students assisted school nurses with screenings at eight Houston elementary schools during the fall semester.

The UH students, along with community health workers trained by the Honors College, also initiated outreach to the parents or guardians of students identified as requiring follow up for corrective eyewear. Their mission was to identify the key barriers – financial, transportation, time management, etc. – keeping families from connecting with necessary resources.

“We need to know what the barriers are so we can fill the gap. The survey helps us determine how to break down those barriers so all students who need glasses get them before the end of the school year. We don’t want to wait,” said project leader Lenora McWilliams, registered nurse and College of Nursing assistant professor.

UH students then worked to connect families with voucher programs, private insurance or other available resources. As a safety net, the College of Optometry is a partner with the Houston Health Department’s See to Succeed program, which provides free vision exams and corrective eyewear to children who have failed mandatory screenings. The program was developed to reduce the barriers to vision care for children who remain on the unresolved list.

“By creating a team approach between nurses, college students, health workers and the community, we hope to bridge the gap and overcome any barriers that affect the ocular health of children in our community,” said Dr. Pat Segu, College of Optometry clinical professor and clinic director for the Kids Vision for Life Greater Houston Area.

It’s not only the elementary students reaping rewards from this collaboration. The inter-professional team of UH students deepened their understanding of social determinants to care and the obstacles faced by many children in the city.

“Our project with UH is indeed an exciting opportunity for our schools, providing much needed support to the nurses for mandated state screening for our students while also providing an opportunity to serve as preceptor for the nursing students as part of their curriculum,” said Gwen Johnson, HISD’s manager of Health and Medical Services.