Dr. Hilary Stecklein of Woodbury, Minnesota performs a hearing
examination at the Jewish Agency’s Ramat Hadassah Youth Village
December 2011 / Kislev 5772
It has been said that 80 percent of what a child learns in school is presented visually and the rest is auditory. Furthermore, research by the Vision Council of America found that 70 percent of children with difficulty reading have some sort of visual impairment and the U.S. Department of Education has found that more than 85 percent of hearing impaired students score below the mean on academic tests. Because vision and hearing screening has become routine in North American education, we have the luxury of taking it for granted. But, clearly, identifying students for intervention is critical.
With this in mind, Dr. Stephen Kutner, an Atlanta ophthalmologist and founder of the non-profit Jewish Health International (JHI), was astonished when he learned a few years ago on a tour of an Israeli Youth Village that the residents—primarily children of recent immigrants from Ethiopia—were not being regularly screened for hearing and vision disabilities. Kutner then approached the Jewish Agency whose four Youth Villages provide residential education, psychosocial counseling, vocational training and extra-curricular opportunities to some 1,000 at-risk youth. Together, JHI and the Jewish Agency launched a comprehensive hearing and vision screening program at each of the Agency’s villages.
“The Youth Village experience provides the structure, support and educational foundation these children will need in order to live fulfilled and productive lives as adults,” Kutner says. “Learning that they were not being screened led me to believe that a significant number of the children were facing challenges in their education that could easily be corrected. This problem had to be addressed for the sake of these children and Israeli society.”
Kutner’s concern turned out to be spot-on. Over the past year, JHI has sent two teams of volunteers to screen a majority of the youth living in the Jewish Agency’s four youth villages in Israel. Team members included: ophthalmologist Dr. Jerry Kobrin, and wife pediatric nephrologist Dr. Hilary Stecklein, of Minnesota; physiatrist and JHI Deputy Medical Director, Dr. Roger Brick, of New York and ophthalmologist and Dr. Kutner. Over the course of two separate, one-week missions, JHI volunteers screened 615 children and identified more than 100 children who needed intervention.
For each of these children, JHI team members recommended referrals for further evaluation. Between team visits to Israel, JHI’s team remains involved with each case by working closely with the administrators and staff at each Jewish Agency youth village. This includes assisting in referral management, consulting on advanced care (where needed) and ensuring that children who require them are receiving glasses and hearing aids.
“Many of these children are screened in the first grade but never again, because routine screenings are not part the basket of covered healthcare services,” Kutner says. “And we know that vision and hearing change over the course of one’s childhood, so continued screening and follow-up care are an extremely important part of our program. We are blessed to be working with such a committed and enthusiastic partner in the Jewish Agency.”
Barry Spielman, the Jewish Agency’s director of communications, North America added: “Our partnership with JHI illustrates how Jews in the Diaspora can connect and contribute their own expertise to make a direct impact in sustaining a Jewish future that depends on every one of us, in Israel and worldwide, realizing our full potential.”