Jessica Alegria, See Well to Learn Health Educator, was interviewed on the Spanish language show, Hecho en California
Please see below for a translation of Jessica’s interview on Hecho en California
Host: Jessica, welcome to the show!
J: Good morning! Thank you so much for inviting me, how are you?
Host: Very good! Thanks for being with us. So, this organization called Prevent Blindness Northern California, also has a program called See Well to Learn–meaning you have to see well in order to learn well–but first why don’t you tell us a little bit about your organization and their mission?
J: Yes of course. So the program See Well To Learn is part of our organization Prevent Blindness Northern California, and the program started in 2012 and we offer vision services for preschool children in the Bay Area. And we usually serve schools in marginalized communities, and all the services we provided are completely free.
Host: And when we say services, what kind of services are we talking about?
J: We offer initial eye-exams to preschoolers in the schools we serve so that we can evaluate if they may need glasses and a more comprehensive eye exam. We also offer these comprehensive eye exams with certified optometrists in our mobile clinic, and if the child needs glasses, we provided those as well, again, at no cost. What sets us apart from other programs is that we provide continued support to the families even after we have given the child glasses in order to make sure that everything is working out and that the child is progressing with their glasses.
Host: So you commented on preschoolers, so in other words, I imagine that it is very important to identify a vision problem in a child at a very early age–but is it possible to know at that age if the child has vision problems?
J: Yes, of course. [Vision problems] can be determined at a very early age and it’s important to detect it at this early age because children are developing connections between their eyes and their brain, and these connections are completely developed by ages 6 or 7. If vision problems are not treated at an early age, what can happen is that there can be permanent damage, or the only way to correct their vision is with glasses, or even sometimes they need even further treatment. Basically, treating [vision] problems can become much more difficult if they have already passed that critical period or age.
Host: And obviously this can affect children’s learning, because if they have bad vision, then [the teachers] tell their parents, ‘your child isn’t learning’ or ‘your child isn’t paying attention’–but frankly, I think that sometimes parents don’t notice that [their child’s vision problem] is what’s happening…and this affects, in a way I imagine, the child’s learning severely, and that is why the program is called ‘See Well To Learn’, I imagine?
J: Yes! The [child’s] learning is affected. Many parents tell me that they noted an issue, for example, they’ll say their child would confuse the letter S for a P or the number 3 with the letter B, and sometimes they’ll say ‘oh, maybe it’s because they’re not paying attention’ or something like that, or that they’re too young, but they don’t know that it’s actually a vision problem. Also, sometimes [vision problems] can affect the behavior of the child. For example, they aren’t able to pay attention for very long or they can’t focus and are very active, and sometimes aggressive, and sometimes this is all due to a vision issue.
Host: Now, where do you guys receive funding in order to help these children? And I would imagine that this current administration has had an influence, in that maybe you guys don’t receive the funding you once did? What can you tell me about that, Jessica?
J: So the funding that we receive, due to the fact that we are a private organization, are usually in the form of donations–
Host: Sorry– you mean private or non-profit?
J: Well it’s private in the way that we do not receive funding from the state or federally.
Hosts: Oh ok ok.
J: So we don’t receive [public/federal] funding. What we receive are donations or, how do you say “grants”, from the individual school districts.
Hosts: Like scholarships?
J: Yup. So like private scholarships. And so since we are offering everything free, and now it becomes more difficult since the schools also have limited budgets, so it puts us in a difficult spot.
Host: So how can a person that is listening now put themselves in contact with you guys? Or how can they figure out what school you guys will be going to? Or how do you find the “point of touch” or main contact to the students?
J: So we work with the schools. So we communicate with the teachers or the school directors, and they let the parents know about our services, what day and time we will be coming, and when we will be doing initial exams. So since we work with the schools, the families must be already enrolled in schools we serve.
Host: So what schools do you serve? All the districts in Northern California?
J: No. We serve schools here in San Francisco, all of the Head Starts. All the Head Starts of San Mateo and also in Oakland. We also serve the public schools of Redwood City and also Hayward.
Host: So you guys say that you’re private and don’t receive funding from the government, but Head Start does, I imagine. How does that work?
J: Yes. So Head Start receives funding from the government, and then they assign a bit of the funding to us in order for us to provide our services.
Host: So how can we help? In other words, the people who are listening to this right now, can they make donations directly to you guys, or no?
J: Yes, yes, of course! Right now we are doing a crowdfunding campaign, and if they text LENTES to 51555 they can receive more information about how to donate or how to just help our organization in any way.
Host: Ok, so now just to clarify, you guys.. in the beginning, or middle, or end… of the school year go to these preschools that are managed by Head Start and there you guys do these kinds of exams, the parents are notified…so how do you work with a parent? So that you can let any parents know that may be listening.
J: Yeah, so I’m actually in a Head Start preschool right now in San Francisco. We’re doing the initial exams, and from here, if a child does not pass the initial exam, we will refer them to take another exam. Then we will come back to the school with our mobile clinic. We leave all the information and documents with the teacher who then gives it to the parents, and then we also follow-up with the parent and let them know when the exam is and answer whatever question they may have, and we stay in contact with them.
Host: Sounds great to me! You know, we often forget how important vision is and how much it is related to learning, and this is a service, that hopefully, can continue helping. Jessica Alegria, she is a parent- and teacher- educator for this organization called Prevent Blindness Northern California. Jessica, many thank yous for being with us today.
J: Yes, thank you very much to you guys! Hope you have a great day!
Host: Same to you, bye!
END 8 min 15 seconds