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Mount Airy All-Age School students wear glasses to shade their eyes.
Dr Doug McCloy checks the eyes of students at Mount Airy All-Age School.

Negril students get a chance to See Better, Learn Better

Claudia Gardner, Hospitality Jamaica Writer

The Rotary Club of Negril, in collaboration with Cornerstone Jamaica and the Frome-based Mission of Sight, recently conducted eye screenings for the entire Mount Airy All-Age School population in Westmoreland, under the See Better, Learn Better programme.

According to director of community service at the Rotary Club, Ken Cooney, the programme was initiated to undertake corrective work for students who were afflicted with eyesight problems, in order to enhance their learning.

"There are loads and loads of research that show that children who can't see properly can't learn and suffer academically, and in life, so we are trying to address that particular problem here in Westmoreland because many of the children don't have access to affordable eye care," Cooney told Hospitality Jamaica.

The Rotary Club of Negril organises and manages the programme within the schools. Rotarians, including Cooney, and Mission of Sight volunteers, conduct the first phase of the screening using a vision screener which checks the children's vision and identifies those who need further examination.

"It (vision-screen use) is not in itself an examination or a prescription for eyeglasses, but it flags the children that should be seen, and it allows us to manage the thing better because a whole chunk of children are taken out because they don't have any issues. Out of the approximately 420 students, we had about 150 that were flagged as needing checking out," Cooney explained during an interview at the Mission of Sights Clinic in Frome where the second phase of the programme was being held.

"Each child gets an extensive eye examination and is also checked out and measured and gets the chance to choose the pair of glasses should they need them. The glasses are new; they are not second hand; they are not recycled. They are made specifically for the child so the child has already chosen the frame they like and now we are gonna make up the lenses that they need. They will be made in the US," he added.

According to the American Paediatric Association, one in every four children may have vision problems, which can inhibit learning. Consequently, Cooney said the children's progress will be tracked overtime to see what the learning outcomes are.

"The kids get their glasses, but the one thing we need to be establishing is, 'do they learn better?' We will be tracking their progress. And will also be following up. We are treating this as a pilot. Hopefully we will go to Sheffield All-Age, as well and spread out to the rest of Westmoreland," he said.

"Upfront funding is from the Rotary Club of Negril. Mission of Sight has provided the doctors, some of whom come in from the United States of America to do this. They have provided the facilities here, and the main cost will be met by the Rotary Club of Negril. We are asking parents whose children do need glasses to make a small contribution of $2,500 and we think if we are providing the glasses that there be some sort of buy-in from the parents," Cooney said.

The See Better Learn Better programme was initiated by Gary Robinson, chairman of Cornerstone Jamaica, a non-profit organisation. Optometrist and founder of Mission of Sight, Dr Doug McCloy, told Hospitality Jamaica that Robinson had become concerned after he noticed that very few school-children in Jamaica were wearing glasses, despite research showing that one in four has eye problems.

"So he wanted to figure out how to help to get Jamaican children the care they need in the western region first but potentially be a national programme, that would initiate vision screening for children in schools," Dr McCloy said.

"Out of the 420 students, 150 were referred; 90 of them are going to need eyeglasses ... . A large number of children that aren't wearing glasses and that have learning conditions, have complaints about their vision," he said. 

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