Dozens of kids with blurry vision didn’t have eyeglasses. An Anchorage school nurse stepped in to help.

During Bethany Zimpelman’s first months as school nurse at Anchorage’s Muldoon Elementary, she noticed a startling statistic: Out of a student body of more than 450, just four wore eyeglasses.

“Which seemed statistically incorrect,” said Zimpelman, who started as a school nurse at Muldoon five years ago, after two decades as a pediatric nurse.

She’s right: Nationwide, about one in five children ages 6 to 11 wear glasses or contact lenses, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. By that math, at least 90 students at Muldoon likely needed glasses.

Over the last few years, Zimpelman has helped more than 100 of her students access eyeglasses for free, with the help of an optometric physician at Makar Eyecare in Anchorage she helped recruit to host vision clinics directly at the school.

Now, a well-used repair kit sits on her desk, filled with super glue, copper wire and tiny screws for the dozens of students with glasses — and much better vision.

Zimpelman says she got the idea to bring regular vision clinics into the school after noticing how few students wore glasses and the impact it was having on kids’ learning.

Anchorage School District students are screened yearly for their vision, but it’s up to parents and guardians to act on the results of those exams, Zimpelman said.


Some of the families at Muldoon Elementary apparently weren’t following up: Records that Zimpelman checked showed there were fifth graders who’d failed their vision exams every year without any further help, she said.

Muldoon Elementary is a Title 1 school, meaning it has a large portion of students who qualify for free and reduced lunches. It’s also one of the most diverse schools in the district.

Through talking with parents, Zimpelman learned that accessing vision care wasn’t always easy for some families — and that it often was an issue of equity and access.

“Many had transportation or language barriers, or just lots of kids,” she said. “If you’ve got five or 12 kids, it can be really hard to take them to the eye doctor. People are concerned that it’s going to cost a lot of money, or that their insurance won’t cover it.”

Zimpelman reached out to someone she’d heard might be able to help: Dr. Elizabeth Bow at Makar Eyecare.

In early 2021, the two started hosting regular clinics at Muldoon Elementary. Each time, they saw a few dozen students who had been flagged as potentially needing vision assistance, and whose parents had given permission for their kids to participate.

“Then if they do need glasses, which most of them do, they pick out out their eyeglass frame, and then they’re ordered, and then they arrive in a couple weeks,” Zimpelman said.

“Not every family agrees to it. But most of them, when they know that they don’t have to take time off work, or take a bus, or call for an appointment, they’re very willing to do it,” she said.

The fact that the clinics are at the school and held during school hours has been key to their effectiveness, and the number of students the clinics have been able to reach, said Alohilani Bonahoom, Muldoon’s assistant principal.

“It was a need in our community, and Nurse Bethany saw that need and acted upon it,” Bonahoom said. “She has done just wonders with it.”

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Over the last few years, the clinics have been able to help dozens of kids access new eyeglasses. The cost is either covered by the family’s insurance or by Makar, Zimpelman said.

Being able to see better can also make a big impact on kids’ overall experience at school, Zimpelman said. They can see the board without having to ask a classmate for help.

Having the clinics directly in the school also allows students to get specialized care, which can be especially valuable for higher-needs students.

Some students, including fourth grader Sunny Yang, have even been able to get more than one pair as they’ve gotten older.

Sunny, who smiles shyly behind a pair of shiny, gold-colored frames, was one of the first students to access one of the clinics as a then-first grader. She wears her glasses every single day, Zimpelman said.

The nurse said watching the expression on Sunny’s face, and other kids’ faces, after putting on glasses that allow them to see clearly for the first time is a uniquely special experience for everyone involved.

“They don’t know before that that everything had been blurry,” she said. “Their expressions are like, just wow. It’s so spectacular.”

Annie Berman

Annie Berman is a reporter covering health care, education and general assignments for the Anchorage Daily News. She previously reported for Mission Local and KQED in San Francisco before joining ADN in 2020. Contact her at