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Better Sight. Better Grades. – Interview with Mr. St. Denis from R.F. Staples Secondary School

Posted on September 29th, 2018

Maurice St. Denis is a school counsellor and teacher at R.F. Staples Secondary School in Westlock, Alberta. For the past six years, he has been actively involved in FYidoctors’ Better Sight. Better Grades. program.

As a school counsellor, an essential part of Maurice’s job is to support his students through any challenges they may be facing throughout the year—both in school and otherwise. One way he equips students for success is by helping them to identify and remedy barriers to their learning; this includes any vision problems they may or may not already be aware of. Maurice, along with the other staff at the school, refer students they believe to be eligible to receive free eye exams and glasses from the Better Sight. Better Grades. program, so they can learn at their best.

Keep reading to learn more about Maurice’s personal experience with the program, in his own words.

Promoting comfort and confidence

Many students who have gone through the program had no idea that they didn’t have 20/20 vision. They just assumed that all students struggled to see the whiteboard. Not only do they come back and report feeling more competent and more comfortable in the classroom, but that extends beyond the walls of this building.

A number of our students that have gone through the Better Sight. Better Grades. program have reported greater success athletically, and even socially. I think they take a lot of pride in their glasses. They feel very privileged and very fortunate to have been selected.

Setting students up for success

Better Sight. Better Grades. complements what our student services program is all about, which is supporting students, accommodating student needs, [and] helping students identify barriers to success—barriers to their learning. So, I think the program really lends itself to what we’re trying to do here. It equips students to succeed, but it also positions our teachers and our staff in a better place to support our students.

Our goal as educators is to equip students with the knowledge, with the virtues, and the tools necessary to succeed—not only in school, but in life. So, when we see the successes from the [program], it often opens more doors for the students.

Overcoming barriers

It’s that kind of ‘aha’ moment that allows you to move forward. I know that our classroom teachers are always really happy when a student comes back, and they have glasses and they can now read the whiteboard, and they can read the textbooks and exams and assignments.

I feel incredibly proud each and every time that a student overcomes a barrier to their success—a barrier to their learning. I think we all, as educators, feel a sense of pride in knowing what it took for them to get to that place, and knowing that we were a small part of that journey—a small part of that process—is incredibly rewarding, and I think that’s kind of why we do what we do: it’s to support students and to empower students and to help position students so that they can leave this building and become confident, contributing, successful members of society.

Evolving throughout the years

For the past six years, each and every time that I’ve put the callout to our teachers to identify students that may require some assistance, we’ve received many, many, many referrals. We have a number of students each and every year that certainly would qualify for the BSBG program, so knowing that there is no longer a maximum amount per school, I think that will allow us to support even more students, and hopefully all of our students will be coming to school each and every day with [equal] opportunities.

The process

[We] bring the students to the clinic, and we kind of make a day of it. So, we typically will schedule exams in the morning, and then our teachers and our program assistants will then take the students out for a nice lunch. It’s just a nice opportunity to build a relationship and rapport outside of [the school]. Interestingly, we often learn a lot about our students, even in those 3 – 4 hours: when you get students outside of this building, outside of the pressures of school, and into a less formal setting. Students often will talk about their personal lives a little bit more. And, really, it’s just about making the student feel comfortable, and I think the staff at FYidoctors have always made our students and staff feel incredibly welcome. I think our students really enjoy that process—really enjoy that day as a patient of FYidoctors.

Supporting learning through healthy vision

Even in my own experience, I never recognized my visual impairment until my second year of university. When I finally got my first pair of glasses, just knowing how much of a profound impact that had for me as a student…knowing that we can identify students at a much younger age that may be experiencing some of those same deficits or some of those same impairments is incredibly rewarding. I truly believe that the staff of FYidoctors feel the same way—that if we can equip students with the necessary tools [at] a younger age, I think we are positioning students to have greater success long-term.

Enhancing the human experience

Clear vision to me means experiencing life to its fullest. I think the human experience is so much defined by what we see and how we perceive. [Having] clear vision allows us to experience the richness and the clearness, and all the little nuances of human experience, of life, of each and every moment.

As an educator, my hope is that all of our students have the same opportunities to ensure that they have the absolute best visual care possible.


To learn more about the Better Sight. Better Grades. program, visit this blog.

You can learn more about the link between vision and learning here.