Houck was not yet 10 years old when a teacher noticed she had to squint to see the board in class. That revelation prompted her mom to take Houck to be outfitted with glasses. She can still remember the first time she saw clearly.
“I remember looking up and saying, ‘Wow, I can see every leaf on the tree,’” Houck said.
Now Houck helps conduct a comprehensive health screening program for Piedmont students through KidCheck Plus, a program of Sight Savers America that has helped bring screenings to Alabama students. This year the program is recognizing her school system as the KidCheck Plus School System of the year, which distinguishes Piedmont from 100 other Alabama schools that also participate in the program.
Through KidCheck roughly 900 Piedmont students in pre-kindergarten through eighth grade each spring receive screenings to check their basic vital signs such as blood pressure and temperature. They also receive more in-depth screenings to check for vision problems, hearing loss, scoliosis and several other medical problems.
“What we’re trying to do is make sure we catch these problems early and get them the treatment that they need,” said Chad Nichols, the chief operating officer for Sight Savers. “Healthy students learn better.”
KidCheck coordinates community resources to bring the health screenings to rural and urban school districts. Working with supervised nursing-school students from about 20 colleges and universities, KidCheck is able to provide the screenings for about $12 per student.
In Calhoun County, JSU nursing students, an Anniston audiologist and a Piedmont dentist’s office work with the schools to conduct screenings. The Community Foundation of Northeast Alabama helps pay for the screenings.
“They really embody that community spirit and that’s why they won the award,” said Nichols.
Piedmont is also using the program to help students who, like Houck, start school with undiagnosed medical conditions.
Joyce Bedwell said KidCheck screenings helped her family identify hearing loss for her daughter Cloey Bedwell, when she was in kindergarten four years ago. Now a fourth-grader in Piedmont, Cloey’s family understands that she can’t hear low tones, such as the hum of an air conditioner.
“It was KidCheck that found her hearing loss,” Bedwell said.
Nichols said it’s important to have school health screenings in rural districts like Piedmont, where students are less likely to have access to medical care. In some instances, seemingly simple matters such as transportation can keep children from visiting the doctor on a regular basis, he said.
KidCheck works mainly with schools where more than 65 percent of students receive free or reduced-price lunch, Nichols said.
He said the Piedmont school district is the only school district in Calhoun County partnering with the KidCheck. Still, he added, the program has become popular since it began five years ago. More schools want to be a part of KidCheck than the program has funding for, he said.
“There are a lot of school systems that would like us to expand into their regions,” Nichols said.
Staff writer Laura Gaddy: 256-235-3544. On Twitter @LGaddy_Star.