Rural School Puts It All In Perspective

I have told you about my involvement with the national Rural Schools Collaborative and their small grant program for rural schools.  Last year we funded nine projects in Alabama and I have now visited seven of them..

(Have 56 applications from Alabama this year, but unfortunately only a handful will be funded due to lack of money.  Grants usually range from $250 to $1000)

One of the grantees last year was hazel green elementary in Madison county.  I visited this school last week. They got $500 to do hearing and vision screening for all kindergarteners at the beginning of school.

Sara McClendon is the person who wrote the grant and made everything happen.  Here is her description of the project.  This really makes one think about what the real world of local education faces.

“The purpose of the grant was to screen every kindergarten student for hearing and vision interferences on the very first day of school and partner with local doctors and agencies to provide support and guidance to our families the minute an issue was identified. The idea came from repeated encounters with struggling students who were not making gains or responding to intervention.

Students might enter kindergarten very low and after quality instruction and failure to respond, they would be referred to the Pupil Support Team (PST) or what we now call the RTI team. Interventions would be developed and implemented and a student still may not respond so they end up being referred for special education testing.

Only then did they receive a full hearing and vision screening at the school. If they failed one or both, the student had lost all that time in class, all that time in intervention because they either could not see the materials or hear the instruction or both. After seeing this happen, I felt this process was backwards and although there are some informal vision screenings that happen throughout the school year, we need to screen all students BEFORE they start school and lose time.

We have 137 kindergarteners, so hearing screenings can be a time consuming process to knock out for each one of them. The $500 grant paid for nurse substitutes to come to our building to help conduct the screenings. My hope, in writing this grant, was to catch a child with an undiagnosed hearing or vision loss before it impacts their formal schooling. We caught nine students on the very first day with either a hearing, vision or combination issues. 

We often have free vision screenings and organizations that come around and they are very beneficial, however, results can take time to get back or only parents see them, not the school and they come screen after the school year has begun and instructional time has already been lost.  Also, as a Title I school, attendance can be an issue for some families and if a child is absent on the day the organization comes, they are not screened and another year could be lost.

My hope was to catch children before they fall and offer support to families as they navigate a potential hearing loss in the state of Alabama which is one of only four or five states in the entire country who do not require insurance companies to cover hearing loss in children. When you compound a hearing loss with the poverty in our area and the fact that insurance will not pay for hearing aids or therapy, our students are at an additional disadvantage.

Sure, there are services set up, but only after one of my twins failed their hearing screen in the NICU after birth, did I realize how difficult getting your child help for a hearing issue was.  And I was a well-informed mother with access to resources and a car with gas in it to drive my child where ever she needed to be for help. We waited over eight months just to get in for an appointment and I have seen families here wait even longer.”

As I see things like this over and over where a small amount of money yields such dividends, I can’t help but think about the constant out pouring of money from the state department of education for consultants.

For the $750,000 contact we just spent for the Montgomery CFO, we could do a screening program at 1,500 schools.  Something ain’t right with this picture.

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