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Head Start, OMT program envision growing partnership

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By Mark Evertz

Joanne Harris, chair of the PCC Ophthalmic Medical Technology department, and Albina Head Start’s Sue Riss were introduced to each other by a phone book.

Eighty 3- to 5-year-olds were added to the Head Start program this spring. Riss, the special needs coordinator for Albina Head Start, needed vision screenings done on these youngsters within 45 days or risk not being in compliance of Head Start requirements.

That’s when Riss’s fingers did the walking and stumbled upon the Ophthalmic Medical Technology program at the Cascade Campus. In late April and early May, those 80 curious and cuddly kids made their way to the OMT lab in Jackson Hall for visual acuity tests and screenings for "lazy eye."

And Sue Riss couldn’t be happier.

"The kids have had a wonderful time and the students get the practical experience they need," she said. "This has been a very symbiotic relationship."

OMT’s Harris agrees.

"I am always looking for service learning opportunities for our students," said Harris, adding that PCC students participate in similar screening programs with the Oregon Lions Sight and Hearing Foundation and other groups. "The students just have a blast and the kids have really enjoyed it."

Harris added that the PCC students’ instructor, Eva Lindahl, gets a chance to see how these second-year OMT students handle the toughest patients of all the little ones.

"I’m really seeing how our students are with children and strangers," she said. "Being with kids takes a special kind of person. With kids, you have to work fast."

That need to be quick, yet thorough, was not lost on student Donna Knittle. "The most challenging thing is the speed you have to do this in because their attention spans are so short," she said. "If you don’t work fast, they’ll lose interest."

For the most part, the Head Starters didn’t seem to mind putting up with a light in the eye or having to name animals on a chart, as long as they got to play with some cool gadgets.

"It’s fun," said 4-year-old Bardolph McConnell as he bolted from an eye chart test to the pile of toys and goofy glasses on a nearby table.

Toys, sunglasses and hydraulic testing chairs were more than enough to hold attention, put smiles on faces and give students the practical testing skills they’ll need on the job all while helping out a neighbor, Albina Head Start, which is located at Northeast Seventh Avenue.

Coming this fall, students will get all the testing practice they can handle when Albina Head Start brings 400 new participants to the OMT lab.

"This really benefits our kids and (PCC) students," said Riss. "And for us, the kids don’t have to travel very far to get what they need."

About James Hill

James G. Hill, an award-winning journalist and public relations writer, has been the Communications Specialist for the Office of Public Affairs at Portland Community College since November of 1999. A graduate of Portland State University, J... more »

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