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Seeing is believing

Bronx students get free glasses thanks to union’s initiative
Feature Stories
Seeing is believing
Jonathan Fickies

Students cut the ribbon to officially open the new Health Center at PS 18 in the Bronx, while (second row, center, from left) Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr., UFT Vice President Karen Alford and UFT President Michael Mulgrew look on.

Seeing is believing
Jonathan Fickies

Students check out glasses in the vision office.

“About 60 percent of kids who fail a vision screening don’t ever ultimately get glasses,” said Delaney Gracy, the director of clinical services for the Montefiore School Health Program.

But thanks to the UFT’s United Community Schools initiative, 100 percent of the 562 students who need glasses at PS 18 in the South Bronx will now get them free of charge.

Vision care services were added this September to the services, including primary care, first aid, dental and mental health, provided by the school’s health center, a collaboration among United Community Schools, the city Department of Education and the Montefiore School Health Program. More than 1,000 students have had more than 7,600 medical visits there since the center first opened in September 2017.

“I have seen attendance improve because of the school-based health center,” said 2nd-grade teacher J’Neal Johnson.

It’s not just students and teachers who love the health center. “I can go to work and know that if anything happens to my kids, they’re taken care of,” said Adriana Galarza, a PS 18 parent. “It’s a huge weight off my shoulders.”

Christine Schuch, the associate executive director of United Community Schools, says the initiative’s mission is about “assessing what the communities need, then delivering those services to students and families.” Since PS 18 needed “vision services and easy access to health care,” Schuch said, “that’s what we needed to do.”

The United Community Schools team hopes to expand the health center’s services to students at neighboring schools in the South Bronx. “That’s sustainability,” said UFT Vice President for Elementary Schools Karen Alford, who spearheads United Community Schools. “That’s using government dollars in an efficient and productive way.”

Addressing a crowd of educators, parents, community members and local elected officials at a celebration of the health center on Sept. 24, Alford shared her favorite Frederick Douglass quote: “It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.” At PS 18, she said, “we are building strong children and they will become great citizens in our city.”

Related Topics: United Community Schools