School nurse Laura Rudolph uses a vision screening machine recently donated by the Ellsworth Lions Club to check the eyes of six-year-old Emma Frost, a first-grader at Ellsworth Elementary School. PHOTO BY STEVE FULLER

Ellsworth Lions Club steps up to help with student eye exams



ELLSWORTH — Six-year-old Emma Frost sits quietly in front of school nurse Laura Rudolph in Rudolph’s office at Ellsworth Elementary-Middle School.

Rudolph holds what resembles an old Polaroid camera in her hands and points it at the first-grader’s face.

Frost is not having her picture taken, however, but rather having a painless eye exam. A series of colored lights flashes in front of her eyes, and in a matter of seconds the exam is over and Frost is on her way back to class.

Rudolph is left with a detailed report of her eye health, including what the prescription of each eye is and whether astigmatism is present.

An exam, such as the one Rudolph is giving Ellsworth Elementary-Middle School first-grader Emma Frost, now takes a matter of seconds. PHOTO BY STEVE FULLER
An exam, such as the one Rudolph is giving Ellsworth Elementary-Middle School first-grader Emma Frost, now takes a matter of seconds.
PHOTO BY STEVE FULLER

State law requires that schools give students vision screenings in kindergarten and grades 1, 3, 5 and 7. In first and third grades, the school must also check for near vision and muscle balance.

With some 500 students to be screened each year at EEMS, the eye exams have been a time-consuming part of Rudolph’s job. In past years she estimated it took her two months to conduct all the required exams.

That part of her job has become much easier this year, however, thanks to a generous gift from the Ellsworth Lions Club. The club purchased a Spot Vision Screener made by Welch Allyn along with other hardware (including a printer so results can be shared with parents) at a cost of about $10,000 and donated it for use by the school.

Lions Club Past President Larry Wilson explained that promoting vision health initiatives such as this one is a core part of what Lions believe in.

“It’s a really big part of our organization,” he said.

Before getting the new screener, Rudolph had to cart around three separate components to conduct vision screenings for students. That was cumbersome and the exams themselves took longer to do, meaning students were losing educational time.

If a medical emergency sprang up elsewhere in the school, Rudolph had to stop the screenings and come back later, which amounted to an additional disruption.

With the new machine, what used to take her two months to do — conducting screenings for the hundreds of students — took her one and a half weeks to do this year.

School nurse Laura Rudolph stands with Ellsworth Lions Club President Larry Wilson, holding the new vision screening machine in her hands. The eye exam chart in the background is one of several components of the previous vision screening process, which Rudolph said was slower and more cumbersome. PHOTO BY STEVE FULLER
School nurse Laura Rudolph stands with Ellsworth Lions Club Past President Larry Wilson, holding the new vision screening machine in her hands. The eye exam chart in the background is one of several components of the previous vision screening process, which Rudolph said was slower and more cumbersome.
PHOTO BY STEVE FULLER

“For me, life has been good,” she said with a smile while standing in her office on a busy Thursday morning — one student sat in a chair working to stem a bloody nose while other students came and went for medication.

In addition to checking 500 elementary and middle school students in Ellsworth, the machine was also used this year at Hancock Grammar School (about 150 kids), Ellsworth High School (where about 130 first-year students were screened) and Lamoine Consolidated School, where about 80 students were examined.

“The machine’s been making its rounds,” Rudolph said. Wilson said that was what the Lions Club envisioned when it purchased the machine prior to donating it.

“This machine is available for schools in Hancock County,” he said.

Rudolph said neither she nor anyone else who uses the machine at the school is an eye doctor, but by using it staff can identify issues that might require the attention of a vision professional.

The machine analyzes each student’s eyes and can determine if that student needs to be referred for consultation or an additional exam. If so, information is sent home to the student’s parents so that they can make the necessary arrangements.

Rudolph said she cannot force anyone to follow up based on the results that are sent home, but she checks in with parents a couple of months after the exams to see if they have done so or if they need any additional information.

For families concerned about financial matters such as the cost of going to an eye doctor or of getting glasses, the Lions are there to help again. An eye doctor in Brewer who is a Lion gives free exams to children who are referred to him as a result of the school vision screenings. The Lions Club has also donated eyeglasses to help families in need.

Rudolph said her goal is to do the vision screenings early in the year, but she said the machine can be used at any time. Teachers will sometimes come in and tell her that a student is having trouble seeing information on a display board or has started holding books very close to his or her face in order to read.

The machine can be used to see what might be causing those issues, and it can also be used to double-check the vision of students who are already wearing corrective lenses.

“I can screen kids with their glasses on and it tells us if their prescription is right,” Rudolph explained.

Rudolph said the machine can be especially helpful for students who are unaware that the way they are seeing things may be affected by a vision condition.

“A lot of kids have no idea they’re not seeing well,” she said.

Wilson said getting a screening machine such as the one now in use in the schools is something the Lions Club has worked on for several years. He said members decided to pursue this particular machine after seeing a school nurse from Mount Desert Island demonstrated the use of a similar machine for the club.

“Once we saw that demo,” he said, “the Lions came on board and said, ‘Let’s buy one.’”

He said club members had worked previously to help conduct the vision screenings in schools when the old equipment was used but said issues of student confidentiality made that complicated.

With the new machine, Wilson said club members know that even though they are not in the school they are still helping promote their mission of vision health while also making life easier for Rudolph and other school nurses.

“With this machine, we don’t need to be here,” he said.

Correction: An earlier version of this article contained an error. The post incorrectly identified Larry Wilson’s position in the Ellsworth Lions Club. He is past president of the club, and headed the project to buy a vision screening machine that is used by local schools.

Steve Fuller

Steve Fuller

Reporter at The Ellsworth American,
Steve Fuller worked at The Ellsworth American from 2012 to early 2018. He covered the city of Ellsworth, including the Ellsworth School Department and the city police beat, as well as the towns of Amherst, Aurora, Eastbrook, Great Pond, Mariaville, Osborn, Otis and Waltham. A native of Waldo County, he served as editor of Belfast's Republican Journal prior to joining the American. He lives in Orland.
Steve Fuller

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