By Jillian Atelsek, The Frederick News-Post. December 22, 2022

After launching a pilot this fall, Frederick County Public Schools is looking to expand a program that offers free vision care to elementary school students.

Vision to Learn Van Photo

Vision To Learn, a national nonprofit optometric provider, was part of a pilot program this fall in which Frederick County Public Schools elementary school students got free vision care.
Courtesy photo

Beginning in November, all kindergarten through fifth grade students at Hillcrest and Waverley elementary schools — both in the city of Frederick — received vision screenings, said DeVeda Coley, FCPS’ supervisor of community school programs.

Then, in late November and early December, optometrists visited the schools to conduct formal eye exams for students who needed them. They will come back in January and deliver glasses to the students who require them, Coley said.

More than 25% of the students screened in the pilot seem to need glasses, according to a news release the district sent Thursday.

The program is a collaboration between FCPS; the Frederick County Health Department; Vision To Learn, a national nonprofit optometric provider; Warby Parker, an eyeglasses retailer; and researchers from the Johns Hopkins University Wilmer Eye Institute.

The Ausherman Family Foundation and the Kahlert Foundation funded the project, according to the release.

“We are deeply appreciative of many partnerships who helped make this opportunity for our students and families possible,” FCPS Superintendent Cheryl Dyson said in the news release. “By identifying potential vision challenges and providing glasses, students will literally see their world differently.”

Similar programs have been successful in Baltimore, the FCPS release said.

In 2021, the Journal of the American Medical Association Ophthalmology published results of a multi-year study of more than 2,000 students in Baltimore City Public Schools who received screenings and eyeglass prescriptions through a school-based program.

The study — written by researchers at Hopkins’ Wilmer Eye Institute — found that the program improved students’ reading scores over the course of a year, especially among girls, special education students and students whose baseline test scores put them in the bottom 25% of their class.

For those sub-groups, the size of the effect measured was comparable to the effect of tutoring, which the researchers noted is “the most effective educational intervention known.” The effect seen in the overall student population was stronger than most other common interventions.

But the benefit wasn’t sustained over two years, the study found. That could be because students’ prescription changes or they stop wearing their glasses regularly, the researchers said, underscoring that vision programs must “ensure mechanisms for monitoring wear, replacement, and connection to community eye care clinicians for long-term care.”

The study also couldn’t measure the effect glasses had on students’ behavior, motivation or attendance, the researchers noted.

Coley said FCPS hoped to continue the program at Waverley and Hillcrest next year, and eventually expand it to the county’s other Title I schools — Butterfly Ridge, Monocacy, North Frederick and Lincoln elementary schools.

“We are so pleased to be partnering with Frederick and building on the lessons we have learned in our Baltimore based-program,” Dr. Megan Collins, an ophthalmology professor at the Wilmer Eye Institute, said in the news release.

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