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Optometrist with young patient.

MCPHS School of Optometry, Worcester Public Schools, and Essilor Vision Foundation to Launch ‘Worcester EYES’

  • One in four students have a vision issue, and for low income students, eye and vision issues are much more likely to go undiagnosed and untreated. That’s where the School of Optometry at Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences (MCPHS) steps in.

    MCPHS, Worcester Public Schools, and Essilor Vision Foundation are now launching Worcester EYES, a program designed to provide eye care services to students in Worcester, MA.

    As part of the program, Doctor of Optometry students will visit Worcester public schools to conduct initial vision screenings and identify students who require more comprehensive eye and vision care. These students will be given the opportunity to visit The Eye and Vision Center at MCPHS–Worcester to receive comprehensive eye exams, and will have the opportunity to select frames–complete with lenses financed by Essilor Vision Foundation–at 10 Optical, the University’s optical center and retail location.

    We sat down with Greg Waldorf, OD, FAAO, Associate Dean for Clinical Programs, and Jerry Hastings, RDO, Optical Manager and adjunct faculty, to learn more about the program.

    First, can you describe the scope and severity of the problem you’re trying to address?

    Professor Waldorf: Right now, there are about 25,000 students in the Worcester public school system. Seventy-six percent of them are classified as “high-need,” meaning that a student has some combination of low income, special education need, or English Language Learner (ELL) status. These students are already facing significant challenges, and research shows that uncorrected vision errors can affect the ability to learn early on in one’s education.

    What kinds of barriers do students typically face when trying to access eye care?

    Professor Waldorf: First, Worcester has a large immigrant population, so language can be a barrier.

    Professor Hastings: Second, low-income families are trying to meet basic needs, like food, clothing, and shelter—when you’re struggling to find those necessities, health services come lower on that priority list. Superintendent Maureen Binienda has been trying to address these other needs, to the point of having health clinics incorporated into some of the schools, so the MCPHS eye clinic is the perfect addition to that effort.

    How did this problem come to your attention? When did you first begin to work on a solution?

    Professor Hastings: About three years ago, in January of 2014, we joined with South High School to provide vision care for their students. Maureen Binienda was the principal of South High at that time; over the last three years, we’ve seen several South High students for exams and eyeglasses.

    Then, last June, Essilor Vision Foundation reached out to Optometry educators with the following commitment: “We have Foundation support for you to expand your children’s vision programs in your communities.” This opened the door to expanding our efforts beyond South High School. Maureen Binienda, now the superintendent, was asked if she’d be interested in bringing our program to the entire Worcester Public School System—and the rest is history. She was extremely excited about the prospect, and we began the work to roll out Worcester EYES.

    How will you identify the students that need help?

    Professor Waldorf: Superintendent Binienda has identified four schools that she feels would benefit the most from the program. School nurses, along with MCPHS School of Optometry faculty and students, will perform the initial screening to identify possible candidates for further examination. Then comes the magical part: The city of Worcester has agreed to bus those students to The Eye and Vision Center at MCPHS to get a comprehensive eye exam. They’ll provide transportation and supervision, both ways.

    How will Doctor of Optometry students be involved in the program?

    Professor Waldorf: In the first and second years, when our students are learning different procedures, we will send them out to perform the initial school screenings to check acuity, eye alignment, color vision—essentially, to determine if a child needs further examination. The third and fourth year students will assist faculty with the full clinical eye exam conducted at The Eye and Vision Center, which includes pupil dilation and a comprehensive assessment of eye teaming as well as external and internal eye health.

    Professor Hastings: I’m an optician and an adjunct faculty member who teaches ophthalmic-related skills to optometry students on clinical rotation through 10 Optical, our on-site optical center at Lincoln Square. At 10 Optical, optometry students will be helping the children select frames, taking measurements, ordering the lenses from Essilor Vision Foundation (who will be providing those lenses for free), edging the lenses, performing final inspections, and potentially visiting the school to dispense the eyewear and adjust the fit on-site.

    What specific goals have you set, and what do you hope to achieve?

    Professor Waldorf: Heather Fusco, clinical manager for The Eye and Vision Center, will line up as many students as possible for comprehensive eye exams. About 1 in 4 children have a vision issue, so we’re hoping to identify the students whose vision adversely impacts their education. If we get between 150 and 300 students the first year, we will be very happy—but of course we’re hoping to get more!

    Professor Hastings: We hope this program results in a steady flow of students coming to us for eye care. Our experience working with South High School was a good introduction, and we are ready to expand our services.

    Professor Waldorf: We know these students classified as high need already have plenty of barriers. We want to remove compromised vision as one of those barriers. Since the City of Worcester is willing to transport the kids, we see this program as taking one more thing off the parents’ plates, and giving students access to excellent vision care.

    Professor Hastings: Eighty percent of learning is acquired through your eyes—when you appreciate that statistic, it makes what we’re doing really exciting.

    How do you plan on raising awareness of the program?

    Professor Waldorf: I think the word is going to spread like wildfire through the school system. Superintendent Binienda has already had a contest to come up with the logo for the Worcester EYES program, which stands for “Engage Your Eyes Students.”

    The School of Optometry at Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences (MCPHS) offers a four-year, full-time Doctor of Optometry program designed to prepare students with the requisite skills, experience, and confidence to practice and advance as a professional optometrist in a wide variety of clinical settings.