Eye exam, glasses for every child in district

Children entering kindergarten in the Cowichan Valley school district this fall who need glasses will now be able to get a free pair.

It’s all part of a program called Eye See… Eye Learn and the school district has signed an agreement with the BC Association of Optometrists to take part, Schools Superintendent Joe Rhodes announced at the school board meeting Wednesday.

"I was approached by the head of the Optometry Association for B.C. as a result of a conversation with Dr. Trevor Miranda, of South Cowichan Eyecare. We met, he presented the program and we’ve said, ‘we’re in!’" Rhodes is excited at the opportunity.

"Optometrists in the Cowichan Valley will provide, free of charge, eye exams for every kindergarten student who comes into our system and if they find they are in need of prescription eyeglasses at that age they will be provided free of charge," he told Trustee Mike McKay and the audience at the meeting.

"What we know is that a lot of early learning challenges are related to vision. It will make a real difference. [The optometrists] know that up to 40 per cent of students in kindergarten have some degree of eye problems," Rhodes said.

The idea came from the optometrists themselves.

"They approached us. They’ve started a pilot program in Coquitlam and they have now reached out to a couple of rural school districts. We’re very optimistic that this is another thing that’s going to add to making a difference here," he said.

"That’s really exciting and I think it’s a great opportunity for all kids as they come into our system to have a proper eye exam and if they need glasses, they will be provided,"

Rhodes said. "They focus on the kids in their first year coming into public education. It’s not done in the school. Families have to go to the optometrists themselves but we are making up a list of the optometrists that are participating in the program," he said.

Most often the problem is hyperopia, which is farsightedness, according to Rhodes. "The concept is that early diagnosis is important."

The Eye See…Eye Learn program provides comprehensive eye exams by local optometrists (or eye doctors) to kindergarten students in participating school districts.

According to the program’s website, the exams are covered under provincial health insurance which means that there is no out-of-pocket cost for the eye test.

If a child then requires a pair of glasses, they will receive them free of charge courtesy of the participating sponsors.

According to Eye See…Eye Learn, "the program was developed to raise awareness among parents of the importance of having their children’s eyes checked upon starting school. Children, who cannot see the board, focus on a picture or follow words in a book may struggle to achieve their full learning potential. Vision problems can also impact their hand-eye coordination for physical activities and even impact their social development. In fact, 80 per cent of learning comes directly through vision."

Under the agreement, the school district will distribute a letter to its parent communities with the objective of reaching as many kindergarten children as possible.