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Fort Worth non-profit providing optometry clinic for high school students

Students in the course practice taking eye exams and making eyeglasses for their classmates, and they even counsel adult patients at off-campus community clinics.

FORT WORTH, Texas — While there are many ways for Texas high school students to start their careers, a North Texas organization offers a unique and challenging path while helping teens graduate faster than the normal.

Texans Can Academy’s Westcreek Campus in Fort Worth helps students potentially become optical technicians while in school.

The Eye CAN optical clinic allows students to learn how to read prescriptions, perform eye exams, cut lenses and make frames.

Dr. Gayle Daniels knows the industry well as her father was also an optometrist and she had her own private practice in Texas for years.

“I had no fulfillment, something was missing,” Daniels said, referring to his private practice.

So, about five years ago, Daniels reached out to the leaders of Texans Can Academies, a nonprofit organization and the largest school dropout recovery system in Texas that specializes in providing educational solutions.

The nonprofit organization currently has 13 public charter, accelerated high schools in Austin, Dallas, Fort Worth, Houston, and San Antonio.

“I really want to help teach a skill that makes them unique so they can actually get a job without being ahead of the crowd,” Daniels said.

Daniels therefore created the Eye CAN optical clinic, which also offers free eye exams and glasses to students without health insurance. Daniels said that while the fall semester is primarily focused on optometry theory, students get more hands-on experience in the spring.

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Students in the course practice taking eye exams and making glasses for their classmates, and they even counsel adult patients at off-campus community clinics and homeless shelters.

In its current configuration, this course takes place every day in the fourth period, with a maximum of 10 students so that each high school student can benefit from the attention of one of the adults.

Jamal King is a senior at Texas Can Academy and Daniels’ program, planning to use what he learned at the clinic to get a part-time job making glasses that will help pay for his studies.

“Some kids don’t know what they want to do after school or don’t have an after school itinerary, so it could help them gain experience and find jobs after they graduate” , King said.

While the TEA has approved this optical technician course in 2020 as a one-hour credit at any high school in Texas, schools must find their own way to pay for the equipment and staff needed to teach the curriculum and train students. The Texans Can development team has raised funds to make this program possible, and Daniels volunteers his time to teach and train students.

“We don’t just teach optics, we teach interpersonal skills,” Daniels said. “We learn to communicate with people older and younger than you. We teach to be respectful.”

Junior Andrea Torres recently entered Daniels’ class as she plans to graduate in early December. She said what appealed to her most about this course was how it would allow her to help other people.

“I love building the frames and choosing the lenses,” Torres said. “Trying to help people see which mounts are right for them.”

Gregory Martin is one of the people who was able to have his eyes checked by the students and Daniels. He said his wife called him and told him he should take advantage of this free opportunity nearby.

“I haven’t had them for a while,” Martin said, referring to the glasses. “I need it for distance. I just broke my last pair.”

Martin was impressed to see the kind of skills these high schoolers were already acquiring.

“These vocations and skills make them employable and increase their chances of finding a job,” Martin said.

In the spring, when students get more hands-on experience, Daniels said she works to set up and schedule outside clinics that get students out of school and help people in their community.

“They were wearing blue lab coats, and when they walked into the clinic, you could see the pride they had,” Daniels said. “Watching people stare at them is priceless. I have goosebumps now. Priceless.”

In 1996, Texas Can Academies became one of the first 20 charter schools in Texas to offer high school diploma opportunities to at-risk students.

“I really appreciate the kids here,” Daniels said. “They’re awesome. It’s an amazing group of kids.”

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