By Kim Walter
WOODSTOCK -- Lions clubs from around Shenandoah County have finished their 13th annual tour of Shenandoah County Public Schools conducting sight and hearing screenings for all new students, and third, fifth, seventh and 10th graders.
The final count for this year's three-week period of screenings was 1,869 -- up by about 100 students from last year's rounds.
The state requires all schools to test pupils in third, seventh and 10th grades for sight and hearing.
Locally though, an additional test is administered for fifth grade pupils because the gap between third and seventh grades is too long, said Anne French, a nurse at W.W Robinson Elementary School.
"So much can change between those grades, and we want to catch problems with sight and hearing as soon as we can," she said.
French said she is incredibly appreciative of the help from Lions clubs, especially with such a large school as W.W. Robinson.
"We've got about 1,200 students here," she said. "If it weren't for the Lions, we'd probably have to look at an outside agency to conduct the screenings, which would cost money."
The Lions clubs, coming from Woodstock, Edinburg, Basye, New Market, Strasburg and Mount Jackson, offer the services for free. Certain members are specially trained technicians who can work the screening equipment, and are able to train the other volunteer members.
Students go outside the school for the assessments, which take place in the Lions Sight and Hearing Van. Inside are closed booths for hearing, and several seating areas for the sight test. Since the tests take place in close quarters, if any child fails the hearing test, he or she is automatically re-checked in another booth.
Overall, the screenings require about 700 volunteer hours, according to Woodstock chapter member Ray Powell. Anywhere from eight to 10 club members are required to operate a session.
Not only do the Lions clubs conduct the important screenings, but also if a child is in need of glasses or further examining by an ophthalmologist and the family cannot afford it, the clubs will pay for it, Powell added. They usually wind up paying for about 100 pairs of glasses each year.
Jack Turley, who has volunteered to assist with Lions Club screenings since its beginning in 2000, said the percentage of students failing the sight test has dramatically increased.
"When we first started about 11 percent of the kids were failing sight, but this year we're looking at about 34 percent," he said.
Turley said he thinks there are several reasons for the increase, including too much time spent on the computer, watching TV or playing video games. However, the economy could play a part, too.
"Some of these kids wouldn't have access to a screening like this, so how would they know they need glasses?" he said. "But I've also heard from kids whose glasses broke, and they didn't want to bother their parents by asking for a new pair."
Typically, only five or six children from each school will fail the hearing test -- most are younger students, Turner said.
Powell said the screenings are something he and fellow club members look forward to each year.
"This is what we're about, giving back to our community," he said. "Of course, it's really nice to be out working with and helping kids."
Contact staff writer Kim Walter at 540-465-5137 ext. 191, or firstname.lastname@example.org