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UpSpring Summer 360: Free vision screenings a new benefit at camp for kids experiencing homelessness

'It could help get kids to the next grade level'
Posted: 5:00 AM, Jul 09, 2019
Updated: 2019-07-10 00:36:18-04

CINCINNATI — It might not sound like the most exciting thing in the world, but Terryion Smith could hardly wait for his summer camp vision screening.

The 8-year-old has never worn glasses, he said. So he was a little surprised by what Dr. Michael Lyons found.

“My right eye was blurry,” Terryion said. “I might get to go to their office and call them.”

Identifying unexpected vision problems was the whole point of the screenings conducted last month at Ethel M. Taylor Academy. It was the newest benefit for kids at UpSpring Summer 360, a seven-week day camp for children experiencing homelessness.

UpSpring had tried unsuccessfully to schedule vision screenings in past years, said Executive Director Alex Kuhns. This year an UpSpring board member helped connect the organization with Focal Pointe Eye Care and Essilor Vision Foundation to conduct the free screenings and provide free frames and lenses to children who need them.

“Studies clearly show that kids’ education will suffer if they don’t have appropriate corrective lenses,” Kuhns said. “It could help kids get to the next grade level if they otherwise wouldn’t have.”

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Teacher Rachel McMillian poses with Terryion Smith before his vision screening at UpSpring Summer 360 camp.

That makes a service like vision screenings critically important for UpSpring, the region’s only nonprofit organization exclusively focused on serving the needs of children experiencing homelessness. Its UpSpring Summer 360 camps serve kids staying at shelters with their families, living temporarily at motels and those doubling up with other relatives while their parents look for more permanent places to stay.

Cincinnati Public Schools offers students free vision screenings throughout the school year. But students experiencing homelessness often move around a lot and can miss those opportunities as a result, said Rachel McMillian, a Cincinnati Public Schools teacher who has been teaching at UpSpring’s summer camp for three years.

“A student today hadn’t been to the eye doctor for three years and to find out he’s having trouble reading out of one of his eyes,” McMillian said. “When we’re writing or reading in the classroom, it is very important so the students can stay on track.”

Feeling like a superhero

Teachers like McMillian keep UpSpring’s campers on track academically and also go with the kids on field trips to help expose them to places and experiences they might otherwise miss.

“It’s fun,” Terryion said of the camp.

In the weeks leading up to the vision screening, he had already been to a farm where he rode horses and hiked in the woods. He had been swimming and went on a pirate cruise on the Ohio River, too.

The camp’s goal is to help students retain and improve their math and literacy skills over the summer and boost their social, emotional and physical health.

For kids with vision problems, getting glasses is a critical part of all those things, Kuhns said.

“It can empower them to take ownership over their education, try harder in school and to be more successful,” he said. “I think for some kids, it’s pretty cool to wear glasses also. It makes them feel like a superhero.”

Focal Pointe Eye Care and Essilor Vision Foundation were happy to help, said Liz Lyons, who owns Focal Pointe along with her husband, Dr. Michael Lyons.

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From left, Liz and Dr. Michael Lyons

“We are just passionate about people seeing,” she said. “Not necessarily everyone having to see perfectly, but being able to see so they can create the best life for themselves.”

The Focal Pointe team screened 42 children, and about half of them needed glasses and didn’t already have them, she said. Some, like Terryion, will need to follow up with Focal Pointe or another eye doctor to determine exactly how to address their vision problems.

“There have been a few that have been pretty strong prescriptions,” Lyons said.

Lyons said she, her husband and their staff enjoyed the UpSpring group so much that they would like to make it an annual effort.

“It’s been one of our favorite parts of the year,” she said. “The teachers have been great. The kids have really followed the directions well.”

It’s a benefit that should pay off next school year for the kids who get the glasses they need, McMillian said.

“Being able to get glasses during the summer, they can start off the new year, you know, ready,” she said. "Ready to learn."

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Terryion Smith, left, listens to Dr. Michael Lyons explain the results of his vision screening.

More information about UpSpring and its UpSpring Summer 360 camp is available online.

Lucy May writes about the people, places and issues that define our region – to celebrate what makes the Tri-State great and shine a spotlight on issues we need to address. Childhood poverty is an important focus for her and for WCPO. To reach Lucy, email lucy.may@wcpo.com. Follow her on Twitter @LucyMayCincy.