Phillips Eye Institute

A girl gets an eye exam

Helping students see new possibilities

Can something as simple as a pair of glasses make or break a child’s opportunity for educational success?

Nearly 80 percent of a child’s learning happens through sight, putting children with undiagnosed vision problems at a disadvantage to their peers. But, in public schools in Saint Paul and Minneapolis, Phillips Eye Institute is delivering a solution.

“Vision issues affect one in five children in our country. Imagine what it’s like for a child with an undiagnosed condition. If they can’t see the white board and they can’t follow what’s going on, they’re going to check out of the learning process,” said Beverly Fritz, executive director of Phillips Eye Institute Foundation.

An african american girl gets an eye exam

Opportunity for All Students

In most cases, vision problems are easily correctible. But some families face financial barriers that prevent students from getting the care they need. To ensure all children have equal access to quality care, Phillips Eye Institute launched its Early Youth Eyecare (E.Y.E.) Community Initiative in 2008.

The program recently received funding from F. R. Bigelow Foundation, allowing an expansion into Saint Paul Public Schools in 2014. E.Y.E. staff and volunteers now screen over 30,000 students annually.

But E.Y.E. goes beyond vision screening. Each family with a child who does not pass the screening gets a follow-up call from a case coordinator to schedule a vision exam, along with any other needed care. The impact on cash-strapped families can be huge.

“There’s a high incidence of students who qualify for free or reduced lunch in Saint Paul Public Schools, so going to the eye doctor or buying glasses may not be the most urgent priority in a family’s financial life. They may be struggling to get to work and get food on the table, or have family members with more urgent health issues,” explained Fritz.

To make sure identified kids get the glasses they need, Phillips Eye Institute created the Kirby Puckett Eye Mobile. This mobile eye clinic comes straight to a school’s front door, making it easy for students to see a doctor and receive a free pair of glasses, if needed.

In Saint Paul, the E.Y.E. program screens 15,000 students annually. In 2015, E.Y.E. program staff connected nearly 3,000 children needing additional vision care to community resources and support.

“Vision problems present one of the greatest health disparities in our nation. It’s also the only one, in most cases, that can be corrected almost immediately. Once a child can see and perform in class, everything improves from their attendance to their self-confidence and engagement. It seems like such a simple thing, but a pair of glasses really can make all the difference in a child’s opportunity to succeed,” said Fritz.