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May 13, 2009 > W.O.W. Provides Screenings for Fremont School District Preschoolers

W.O.W. Provides Screenings for Fremont School District Preschoolers

Preschool children who have problems with their eyesight or hearing often have difficulty developing the speech and language capabilities - as well as the social skills - that are needed to succeed later on in school. Yet many times, vision and hearing problems aren't diagnosed in preschool children of low-income families simply because the parents cannot afford screening exams.

To help these youngsters get off to a good start, Washington Hospital has provided free vision and hearing screenings for the past five years to children in the Fremont Unified School District State Preschool Program (FUSDSPP). The Washington on Wheels (W.O.W.) Mobile Health Clinic staff took over the screening program three years ago, and screenings this spring were provided in the W.O.W. headquarters in the Washington West Building across the street from the hospital.

"The vision and hearing screenings have been a tremendous service for the children of Fremont," says FUSDSPP Program Manager Beverly Taub, Ph.D. "The children in our preschool program come from lower-income families who might not have access to these health screenings otherwise. The screenings help us catch vision and hearing problems early on so we can refer children to the appropriate resources. Every year, there are several kids who are referred for further screenings and other services. Last year, 9 percent of the children who participated in the hearing screenings did not pass. Of the children who participated in the vision screenings, 8 percent did not pass."

W.O.W.'s certified nurse practitioner Sherrie Kneebone notes that early diagnosis of vision and hearing problems can help children be more successful in school. "Children of preschool age - from 3 to 5 years old - are learning all the time, primarily through the five senses," she explains. "Up to 85 percent of all their learning comes through vision and hearing, and approximately 35 percent of preschoolers will have repeated ear infections that may cause some degree of hearing loss. That hearing loss may be temporary, but even temporary hearing loss can delay speech and language development."

The screenings are provided every year to 12 classes of 24 children each. The tests take only about 15 minutes to perform - which is a key consideration when you are dealing with young children who are not inclined to sit still for very long.

"We perform simple visual acuity tests with the standard 'E' charts," Kneebone says. "If children already wear glasses, we perform the tests with their glasses on to make sure their prescriptions are adequate. The hearing tests involve playing various tone levels through earphones - when the kids hear a tone, they put a beanbag in a basket. The testing process is fun for us as well as for the kids."

The FUSDSPP provides free preschool classes for three hours a day, Monday through Friday, from September through June. "Children in the program must be 3 years old by December 2 of the school year, and up to 5 years of age," says FUSDSPP Community Liaison Lucy Kelly.

"We follow the state guidelines for an early childhood development curriculum to help children prepare for kindergarten," she adds. "The program introduces children to numbers, the alphabet and reading, with children also learning to write their own names and simple words. They also develop the social skills required to participate in kindergarten. In addition, we offer parenting education workshops and have the parents participate in classroom activities. Another component of our program is to catch learning and development problems early on and provide referrals to appropriate resources, which is why the screenings provided by Washington Hospital are so important."

Partial funding for the W.O.W. screenings is provided from a portion of the proceeds from the annual Chili Cook-Off sponsored by all of the Tri-City Rotary Clubs. "We are delighted to be able to partner with both the school district and other local agencies such as Rotary to provide these important health care services," says Washington Hospital Director of Community Outreach Ruth Traylor.

For more information about the Fremont Unified School District State Preschool Program, please call (510) 659-2579.


Learn More About Washington On Wheels

Washington On Wheels is a mobile medical unit providing quality health care services primarily to uninsured and underserved residents of the Washington Hospital Township District. To learn more information and see when the mobile clinic will be in your neighborhood, please call (510) 608-3203 or visit www.whhs.com/community/wow

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