World Sight Day

Seeing A Way Through

Pandemic forces creative solution to safe school screenings

The Taos Lions traditionally screen more than 1,000 students from 17 schools each year in Taos County, New Mexico. But with hybrid schedules and remote learning last year, they couldn’t safely do the usual testing of an entire student body in one day inside a darkened auditorium.

Woman waits at the entrance to a greenhouse tent
Lions in in Taos County, New Mexico used pop-up greenhouse tents to administer safe vision screenings.

Lion Mary Pencin, in her first year as the club’s KidSight Coordinator, was not going to let the pandemic stop her from doing her job.

With the help of her daughter, she came up with the creative idea to move their operation outside. Pencin, a retired veterinarian, adapted three five-by-five-foot greenhouse growing tents, converting them into portable outside screening booths that could easily be transported, set up, and taken down. Multiple zippers allowed workers to get cords and equipment in and out of the tents, and the tents could be placed side-by-side while keeping volunteers and students separate and safe.

One tent was for the student, one for the camera operator, and one for the printer/paperwork person. Each had their own entrance/exit and ventilation, and wearing protective gear also helped secure the health of the child and volunteer. “It was out of desperation,” explains Pencin. “We wanted to test and we wanted to keep ourselves and the kids alive and safe.”

Taos Lions tested 835 students, from toddlers to high schoolers, in their new gigs,

A girl enters a greenhouse tent
The large windows in the greenhouse tents enabled Lions to screen children while keeping everyone socially distanced.

focusing on children in pre-K to third grade but including any who had concerns. That’s to the credit of a “terrific crew” of 14 (12 of whom are Lions), says Pencin. “They are amazing. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate the support of our Lions club here in Taos.”

This year the club has already completed vision tests on 954 students from 13 schools, leaving just a handful of schools to

finish before their self-imposed deadline at the end of the month. Eighteen percent of the students have been referred for follow-up exams.

Although the club continues to offer the tents as an option, all but two schools have gone back to the traditional set up inside. One school is using the tents again because the school has construction underway. Just another way the tents come in handy, says Pencin.