Q&A with Corrine Kroger (Vision To Learn)

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Q&A with Corrine Kroger (Vision To Learn)


Corrine Kroger is the regional director at Vision To Learn Iowa, the state chapter of a national organization working to ensure students get the eye care they need to learn and do well in school. Corrine, who has led the chapter since its creation in 2016, oversees day-to-day operations as well as development and advocacy. 

Tell me about your background and Vision To Learn Iowa.
Prior to Vision To Learn, I was serving in a capacity with the Community Foundation of Greater Dubuque working with community health, children in the school system and academic success. Vision screenings were one piece we evaluated: looking at what was actually happening and how many kids were getting the follow-up care they needed. When we started to unpack that — and had conversations with schools and providers — we concluded about two-thirds of students weren’t getting the additional services they needed. So, we started to look at different care models and came across Vision To Learn. In 2016, we launched a pilot program that eventually expanded to serve a seven-county region in eastern Iowa. I took a position with Vision To Learn and opened a statewide office based in Dubuque.

How does Vision To Learn operate in Iowa? How are students identified for the program?
Vision To Learn Iowa’s mission is to bridge the gap in care for Iowa students, especially in low-income communities, by providing vision screenings and eye glasses free of charge. We first identify schools and communities who have a high percentage of identified need based on demographic data and conversations with community partners. At that point we form relationship with the local school district and lay out expectations. Usually the district is responsible for completing that initial vision screening for students, either by the school nurse or a community partner like Prevent Blindness Iowa (they are a great partner — they completed over 11,000 vision screenings in Des Moines and the surrounding communities last year). If there are gaps in screening availability, we send out our own optometrist because every student must be screened prior to being referred for a full examination. Once students needing extra care are identified, I work with school districts to schedule our mobile vision clinic — a converted van with all the necessary equipment. Our licensed optometrist/optician completes full eye examinations with students, and the kids are then able to pick out their own pair of glasses onsite. When the glasses are ready, usually a week or two later, our mobile clinic returns to the school and fits each student with his or her pair.  

What does it mean for kids when they get a pair of glasses?
Students really appreciate that they can pick from a wide variety of frames and get a pair that they like and will wear. What’s also neat is that often times a between 20 to 100 students in a single school will be fitted for glasses, which creates a sense of excitement for these kids and motivates them to wear their glasses. And schools do a great job of promoting this to the kids.

How does the program impact student learning?
There is a direct correlation between the work we’re doing and student academic achievement. There’s a lot of research out there that shows 80 percent of child’s learning during the first 12 years of life happens visually. So, if you have a student who cannot see well, they may avoid reading, suffer from headaches, could have trouble focusing on class discussions — and their behavior in the classroom could ultimately reflect this. Many kiddos cannot identify whether or not they’re having vision problems, which makes it difficult for educators to identify problems as well. All these factors affect a child’s likelihood of doing well in school, graduating and successfully moving into adulthood. Schools have told us that our work also helps improve student confidence and reduces office visits.

Your organization estimates some 20,000 students in Iowa need glasses. What will it take to reach that goal? Any challenges?
To date, we’ve completed over 5,400 eye exams and prescribed over 4,300 glasses for students in Iowa. But we continue to look at how we can expand our services through partnerships. When we go into communities, we do a thorough scan to ensure we’re the best fit, or if another organization is better suited to meet needs. Our main challenge is that we have one clinic for the entire state of Iowa. You can imagine that with Iowa being a rural state it’s extremely difficult to get to every student in a year. Right now, our current capacity is about 3,500 students per year. The other challenge — we often need to higher local optometrists when we go into other regions of the state, and it can be difficult to find ones that have the capacity to take on additional work. Finally, funding and our efforts need to align, which is a challenge we continually face.

Are there ways people can get involved with Vision To Learn, even if they aren’t directly connected with a school?
Given the complexity of our work and involvement with student health, we don’t have a lot of volunteers. Honestly, the best way to get involved with Vision To Learn is to donate to the program — giving $100 provides a full exam and pair of glasses for a student. If people are looking for ways to give back, we encourage them to give to the program so that we can expand our reach and serve more kids in Iowa. Visit https://visiontolearn.org/donate/ to learn more, or contact me directly and I can help facilitate the donation process.

08/05/2019 2:33 PM |Add a comment
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