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ACAP receives grant to buy new screening equipment for Head Start program

PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — Officials from the Aroostook County Action Program’s early care and education program recently purchased new equipment, thanks to a $10,000 grant from the Sadie and Harry Davis Foundation, that has already helped provide more efficient visual and hearing screenings for children.

As part of ACAP’s Head Start program, children are required to have visual and hearing screenings within their first 45 days of enrollment. In the past, medical assistants at ACAP’s childhood services center in Presque Isle have used old-fashioned pictures and symbols for eye exams that were difficult for some children who did not yet understand shapes. With hearing exams, many children who have autism have a harder time sitting still for long periods of time and might have sensitivities to larger equipment placed in their ears.

The recent grant, which covered most of the $12,000 cost for new equipment, allowed ACAP to buy much smaller tools that can read and display test results electronically.

Children are now tested for visual acuity using a “Spot” screener that takes an image of their eye as they stare toward a small, bright light that it projects. The screener instantly shows whether the child’s vision is 20/20 or if they need further testing. For hearing tests, ACAP now uses an Otoacoustic Emissions machine, which uses a small earphone that is placed in a child’s ear and presents the results on a screen. The option to hold the small screen while a medical assistant performs the test can make many children feel more comfortable and not notice the touch of the earphone.

Those new methods not only produce more accurate readings but also involve less time for both children and medical assistants, according to Addy Beck-Bell, ACAP health coordinator for early care and education.

“A process that used to take 15 to 20 minutes per child now takes only three minutes,” Beck-Bell said. “We’ve had the equipment for one week and have already used it at our centers in Caribou, Presque Isle, Fort Kent and Dyer Brook.”

Beck-Bell noted that visual and hearing screenings are essential because although she cannot diagnose a visual or hearing problem, if negative test results appear twice, then she can refer a child to a medical specialist. Conducting the screenings as early as possible fits with ACAP’s mission to prepare Head Start children for success in public elementary school.

“We know that if children can see and hear well they’re more able to participate fully in school,” Beck-Bell said.

ACAP was one of 10 organizations in Maine to receive grants through the Sadie and Harry Davis Foundation Children’s Health Small Grant Program. The remaining $2,000 for the new equipment not covered by the grant was paid for with funding from the federal Office of Head Start. ACAP’s Head Start program serves over 300 children throughout Aroostook County who are aged 3 to 5 years old.

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