Health screenings at Duquesne school help ward off learning problems

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duquesne​As he finished a vision test at Duquesne Education Center on Tuesday, second-grader Derian Pieniadz was pleased with his performance.

“I got everything perfect,” Derian said, though he allowed that someday “I am going to get some glasses.”

Derian was one of about 400 students taking a state-mandated health exam this week at the kindergarten-through-sixth-grade education center, thanks to a program offered by the Penn State Hershey PRO Wellness Center and Highmark Foundation.

Jefferson Hospital supplied 14 nurses for the two-day screening event in Duquesne, which includes hearing tests, spinal exams and measuring weight and height.

The goal of the program is to help identify problems early in the school year that could affect a child’s ability to learn.

Duquesne school nurse Maureen Callas said that, working alone, it typically takes her until December to screen all district students. By then, she said, the first half of the school year has passed and necessary items such as glasses could be pushed off in economically struggling homes as something a student will get next year.

“The biggest asset here is we’re doing it early,” Callas said.

Uncorrected vision problems appear to be the district’s top health issue.

“We have a large population of students who visually are having issues,” Duquesne principal Jennifer Jennings said.

“More often than not, students weren’t seeing as well as they should,” Jefferson Hospital nurse Tracey Hynes said. “It’s alarming for the community.”

Second-grader Envaya Dukes knows she needs new glasses.

“I had glasses but I lost them,” Envaya said, adding she isn’t sure when the pair went missing but it was sometime during the last school year. “I can’t see far, far away.”

Programs are available to help get glasses for students who need them, Callas said. The district participates in a program with Davis Vision that provides vouchers for exams and glasses to families with no insurance coverage.

The district is adding a second program, Optical Academy, designed for families with minimal health care coverage.

Yvonne Cook of the Highmark Foundation said her organization supports the screenings because they focus on prevention and help parents learn early in the school year if their child has a health issue.

Duquesne is one of three districts in the state participating in the health exam program, said Ellie Hogentogler, a marketing manager from the Penn State Hershey PRO Wellness Center. The others are in Erie and Allentown.

Hogentogler said economics are a factor in a district being chosen, noting that all students at Duquesne Education Center qualify for free or reduced-price meals.

In struggling districts, Hogentogler said, school nurses “are just so limited in time to treat students.”

Donna Kephart, executive director for the wellness center, said school officials in the local district were welcoming to the program and its mission.

“We really have a receptive partner in Duquesne,” she said.

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