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NSU provides school vision screenings across Tahlequah and surrounding school districts

As one of only 23 optometric training schools in the nation, the Oklahoma College of Optometry at Northeastern State University through a partnership with the Cherokee Nation and other area entities, sees more than 40,000 patients each year through their clinics.

In addition to the care provided in the clinics, optometry students provide vision screenings to students in Tahlequah and surrounding school districts. Dr. Alissa Proctor and Dr. Jonathan Janzen, professors in the NSU College of Optometry serve as the attending doctors for the school screenings.

Every Friday morning during the fall and spring semester vision screenings are conducted at Greenwood Elementary School, Heritage Elementary School, Cherokee Elementary School, Shiloh Christian School, Sequoyah High School/Immersion program and Briggs Elementary School. In the spring, vision screenings are also conducted at the Wagoner Public Schools of Teague Elementary, Ellington Elementary and Hulbert Elementary.

“We also try to visit some of the rural schools like Westville, Cave Springs, Tenkiller and Lowrey,” Proctor said. “Historically we have also visited Keys Elementary.”

Amanda Vance, principal at Heritage Elementary, said many parents have expressed their gratitude for the free vision screening services offered to their children.

“These screenings have detected vision problems linked to some learning delays for many of our students,” Vance said. “This is a vitally important service that the College of Optometry offers and we are fortunate to have this service in our schools.”

Vance said the College of Optometry has provided vision screening services to the Heritage students since the school was built in 2012.

In addition to farsightedness and nearsightedness, Proctor said they find astigmatism, strabismus, or eye misalignment, focusing problems and eye-teaming issues that may make reading difficult. “We also refer for ocular health problems that affect the front and back of the eye,” Proctor said.

Each week the school districts are served by nine to 10 first- or second-year College of Optometry students.

“First-year students participate in the spring and second-year students participate in the fall,” Proctor said. “One-third of the class rotates through vision screenings each week as it is part of the curriculum. They do clinic observations or chart review the other weeks.” Proctor said she has been supervising these screenings since fall 2006 and has screened over 18,000 children.

With COVID-19 protocols in place Proctor said they have altered the screenings so that one student is paired to do the whole exam with one optometry student.

“They bring standard portable optometry equipment. The equipment/tables are cleaned between students and our optometry students are screened with a questionnaire and their temperature is taken before leaving NSU; they wear a mask the whole time,” Proctor said.

Janzen said he has been supervising the vision screenings since 2018.

“I find that it is a fantastic learning opportunity for new optometry students to practice their new exam skills,” Janzen said. “It also provides a great service for the schools and families in helping to identify many vision problems that are unknown until we identify them.”

 Janzen said it is a joy to help the children as well as train the optometry students regarding pediatric clinical techniques and decision making. “Each child leaves with a sticker and a smile, and we send home an informational sheet stating if the child has passed the screening or is in need of further evaluation,” Janzen said.