OGDEN — Children in Ogden and Weber school districts who were in need of optometry care received free eye exams at a special event Thursday and Friday.

Called SightFest, the event is organized by the Utah non-profit Friends for Sight. Ogden’s event ran with the help of school nurses, 80 volunteers and nine area optometrists who donated their time, said Kate Edwards, executive director of Friends for Sight, in an email.

SightFest is designed to provide glasses for children and families who might not otherwise be able to access them, Edwards said.

“We always try to get the word out about the importance of everyone receiving full eye exams on a yearly basis,” Edwards said. “It’s so important for kids to be able to see. It not only affects them academically but also athletically and socially as well.”

A teacher contacted Edwards a couple of years ago and shared that she didn’t think she was connecting with one of her students because he never engaged in eye contact. After he got glasses, this changed.

“(The teacher) realized after we were able to put glasses on this young man’s face, that that was the issue,” Edwards said. “It wasn’t the social connection necessarily that was being lost between the student and the teacher, it was the fact that he did not have that social cue.”

This year’s two-day event, the fourth annual SightFest held in Ogden, served 181 students who were bused from their schools to the Ogden district administrative offices for the exams, though two students only needed new frames.

After receiving exams, students were able to try on and select frames — the highlight of the day. When the glasses are ready in about a month, they’ll be delivered to their new owners.

Eterniti Santiago, a fifth-grader at Odyssey Elementary, was a little worried she’d “look weird” with glasses, but she was looking forward to being able to see from the back of the classroom — and she had plans to find some purple and black frames, she said in a video shared by the district.

These glasses are paid for through partnerships with corporations and foundations, Edwards said. Essilor Vision Foundation provides the lenses free of charge.

This year, 24 of the 181 students came from Weber schools, according to Tina Skerl, Ogden district nurse. Weber began participating in the Ogden event last year, Edwards said.

It’s estimated that half of children in the U.S. who attend Title I schools, which receive federal financial assistance to better serve a higher proportion of economically disadvantaged students, need vision care, Edwards said.

Though Title I schools often have a high need for services like SightFest, the event is designed for any student who doesn’t have access to vision care, and the districts determine how students are invited, she said.

“Ogden School District has such strong support systems to help students in the district. The nurses are just willing to do whatever it takes to help their students, and so they even have home visits ... I think that is the strength of SightFest (in Ogden), is just the incredible team of nurses they have.”

Contact reporter Megan Olsen at molsen@standard.net or 801-625-4227. Follow her on Twitter at @MeganAOlsen.

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