Student Spotlight Series: How Did Bianca Zarders Support Minneapolis Public Schools by Creating a Minneapolis Vision Health Task Force?

#UMNMCH student Bianca Zarders (MPH 2020) wrote this reflection on how her deployment with the Minneapolis Public Schools Early Childhood Screening has impacted her career in MCH. 

Vision Health

When I first applied to this deployment during Fall 2018 at the Minneapolis Public Schools Early Childhood Screening (MPS ECS), I had very little knowledge of vision health and the importance of this public health topic. I had gone through almost 5 years of studying public health and vision health had never been brought up or discussed in any of my classes. As I began doing literature reviews and data analysis from MPS I started to realize how poor vision health can drastically affect learning and the behavior of a child if not treated early.  The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force Recommendation is for vision screening to be done at least once between the ages of 3 and 5 years. However, less than 15% of preschool children get an eye exam and fewer than 22% receive vision screening.  A lot of inequities in vision access were found in the MPS ECS data in English as a second language, African American and American Indians children. 


In the first year of my deployment, I was able to coordinate cross-department meetings to present information from strategy development, meeting planning and facilitation, process development, change strategy implementation, and improvement training. In the second year, I was given the opportunity to support improving the local vision health initiative, data analysis of research projects, and conduct various comparative analyses of data at MPS. I also supported local and national vision health meetings and work by leading virtual and in-person meetings. Last year, my supervisor from the Minneapolis Public Schools, Early Childhood Screening and I created a Minneapolis Vision Health Task Force in efforts to collaborate with various stakeholders to address the gaps in our system toward vision health in children 3-5 years old. The task force stakeholders include organizations from local and state jurisdiction, health care, philanthropy, Head Start and non-profits. Our goal is to eliminate the barriers toward proper eye treatments, glasses, insurance, or cost dilemmas regardless of race/ethnicity or home language. 

 In March of 2019, we applied for the National Prevent Blindness Better Vision Together Team that works alongside other states to collaborate ideas, mentorship from the national level and to encourage one another to create adequate vision health in each state. In September of this year, I was able to present my research alongside my supervisor in Baltimore in front of the National Committee of Prevent Blindness to discuss the data and results we have found from our Minneapolis Vision Health Task Force and the work we are doing to close the gap in vision health in our city. Our presentation sparked a conversation on a national level on what other states could do with their own task force as well as what policy and legislative changes could be done from a systems-level in regards to vision health. We were also able to talk with policymakers and legislatures on ways we could improve our systems in Minneapolis. This allowed us to cast vision to what the next few years would look like.

Lessons Learned

Something this deployment has taught me is that advocating for health does not have to be complicated.  If children can’t see, they can’t learn. If they can’t learn, they fall behind in school. Creating equitable vision access and allowing all children the proper eye treatment and glasses they need before kindergarten can eliminate the barriers of learning for every child in the nation. I am beyond grateful for this phenomenal deployment experience. It has challenged me to see basic necessities such as proper eye treatment and glasses as a universal right for all children. Vision health was not my initial passion but once I decided to step out of my comfort zone and try learning and discovering a new aspect of health, it made me realize that my passion for health equity can be translated into all aspects of public health.

I am beyond thankful for my supervisor and mentor Cindy Hillyer at MPS as well as Sara Benning from the Center of Leadership for making this opportunity possible for me and for guiding me throughout these last two years. 

Bianca Zarders received her Bachelor of Science in Public Health with a focus on Health Promotion and Education from Kent State University in 2017. She is currently a second-yearMPH candidate at the University of Minnesota where she is specializing in Maternal and Child Health. Her passion for maternal  and child health sparked when she took a health disparities course in junior year of college and realized the need for further research on health inequities in children of color specifically in African American children. In Fall 2018, Bianca began a research internship at Minneapolis Public Schools (MPS) Early Childhood Education, focusing on vision health where she began to see how poor vision health can drastically affect learning and the behavior of a child if not treated early. Her recent research has been on building Health Equity by Advancing Early Detection of Vision Problems and Access to Vision Health Care In Children 3-5 years Old In Minneapolis, Minnesota. She is passionate about closing the racial and language barriers so that all children are given the same access to health in Minneapolis and the United States.

–Read Bianca’s guest blog post on MCH Competency #11, Working with Communities and Systems, on the national MCH Trainee blog

–Read Student Spotlight archives

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