Bringing Education into Focus™: Meet HKI’s Nancy Prail

An interview with HKI's Director of Childsight®
Prail in New Mexico

How many people can say that their job brings instant gratification through very simple solutions? Ask Nancy Prail (left in blue shirt), our Director of Childsight®, and she will tell you it happens to her all the time.

Helen Keller International’s ChildSight® program serves at-risk children living in urban and rural poverty by offering free vision screenings and eyeglasses. ChildSight® overcomes the two biggest barriers to childhood vision care: prohibitive cost and limited access. Since 1994, ChildSight® has screened over 1.4 million students in the U.S. and has provided free eyeglasses to over 186,000 of the nation’s most vulnerable children. The result is a significant increase in class participation, a reduction in disruptive behavior and a dramatic improvement in self-confidence. Click here to watch HKI’s video on the Childsight® program.

How Nancy got into public health: “It wasn’t a conscious decision. Prior to Helen Keller International I had been working in the field of human resources doing program management. The progression to public health was a natural one, from helping people in organizations to finding another setting where I could positively impact people’s lives. I was very drawn to the mission and purpose of ChildSight® and joined HKI in 2000 to launch the program in Connecticut.”

Making a difference with just a pair of glasses: “There is a real instant impact that a simple pair of glasses can have on a student. You can see the students put the glasses on (girls check the mirror first!), but then they go from the eye chart to, all of a sudden, reading everything on the bulletin board, the chalkboard and looking out the window. It demonstrates how children begin to see the world. Their gaze goes from how they see themselves to how they see the world. And it starts with just a pair of glasses. It’s a really rewarding moment!”

Most exciting moment at Helen Keller International: “We had a Pre-K program and I was onsite with a doctor one day. The children were four years old, and many of the New York families were from the Dominican Republic. HKI encouraged parents to be present during the eye exam so they would comply with the findings. We used symbols instead of letters and many times the students couldn’t see and made incorrect guesses. The parents often said they aren’t trying hard enough, but when the test lenses were put on, the child usually got all of the answers right and the parents are amazed. As soon as the doctor placed the lens on their faces, the children began to smile and respond, getting all the answers correct. They never knew! Kids and parents went from stress to smiles. It’s not that the parents didn’t care; they just didn’t have the resources. The kids didn’t realize that their peers were seeing better and, for example, that trees have more than one leaf, because they had no other frame of reference. The results were astounding, and the children’s participation, involvement and attention span immediately began to improve.”

Listening to students: At Helen Keller International, we are always trying to evolve and look for better ways to open up services for individuals in need. In ChildSight®, we’re always changing the type of frames we’re offering to be sure that the students like the frames they are being given. Most of the beneficiaries are Middle School students between 12-and 15-years old and, as teenagers, they must have choice. The glasses must be trendy for them to be actually worn. We listen to what the students say – for example, plastic frames instead of metal ones are now in, and that’s what we offer.”

What has surprised Nancy most about her job: “Students always surprise me. I am sometimes caught off guard by their insightfulness and candor. It seems like the kids are growing up so fast; they are so mature for their age. Going into schools as an adult also brings back memories: the principal’s office, cafeteria food, some good and some not so good!”

Do you remember getting your first pair of glasses? If so, share your story in the comments box below.

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Categories: Preventing Blindness, Staff Profiles, United States

3 Comments

  1. Ann Nunn says...

    Got my first pair of glasses when I was 17, and still have good eyesight at 74, thank my lucky stars, but my eldest daughter needed her first pair at five and my youngest brother was/is severely myopic. Both got whatever medical care and glasses they needed, and both turned into excellent students because they were lucky, like Helen Keller, to be born into an educated and economically advantaged family. No child in the United States should go without proper eyecare, and no child in the United States should have to depend upon scarce charity to get it; eyecare for children must be made a part of every insurance policy and every government program so that no children fall through the cracks. In the meantime I will send you a donation and my thanks for doing this worthwhile work.

  2. Maggie Jacoby says...

    We couldn’t agree more Ann, and are very grateful for your support – and the support of others – that enables us to provide this much needed service to children in need.

  3. Pingback: Hector Gets New Glasses | Seed to Sight

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