School Shades: One teacher’s initiative for student eye health
Having operated for just over one year, School Shades aims to protect primary school children’s eyes from excessive UV exposure at recess and lunchtimes.
Founded by primary teacher, Masters student and father of three, David Whetton, the initiative began in January 2015 after he became frustrated with the lack of response from established sunglasses brands.
“An experience with my second child started the whole concept,” he told Education Matters in a recent interview. “My son had an eye disease that was treated by a paediatric ophthalmologist who advised by that under Australia’s harsh UV rays, my son (and all children) should wear a pair of sunglasses to protect their eyesight.
“As a primary teacher of 10 years, I wondered why we sent our students out to play only with a hat but as teachers, we wore a hat and sunglasses when supervising playground duty. If adults saw the need to wear sunglasses, why not provide them for children was their eye is more susceptible to damage from UV rays during its development?”
Recent research shows that children require a minimum exposure to natural light of around two hours per day to reduce the risk of developing myopia. But if children aren’t protected from harmful UV radiation during those times, severe damage can take place, leading to problems with eye health that may not become prevalent until years later.
It was this problem Mr Whetton hoped to solve, yet after dozens of meetings and emails with existing sunglasses suppliers, he realised that if he was to provide affordable eye wear to students around the country, he would have to start his own line of products.
“I created the School Shades brand and product, found a manufacturer, and eventually found the pathway to addressing Principals at their area meetings. I have met with state politicians and I have leaned on my Masters research skills and been featured at University.”
Now, Mr Whetton has addressed 25 Principals’ conferences across Australia, speaking to thousands of primary school leaders regarding their responsibilities to promote sun safety and, more specifically, eye health. As a result, 100 schools from around the country have partnered with School Shades to provide approximately 20,000 students with sunglasses.
And while the sunglasses do cost money to produce and distribute, Mr Whetton said the project has been “funded and energised by [his] zeal to make this change for the health of Australian kids”, and was never intended to be an exercise in generating profits.
“The sponsorship of Principals’ meetings and the running of the business is expensive,” he said. “I do not draw a salary from this initiative.”
Instead, either the school or the school’s P&C Association funds the purchases of the products for their students, with that money being used to produce and market more pairs of sunglasses.
Each student is then assigned a pair to keep and label, which they are expected to wear during breaks, particularly during peak UV times in the middle of the day between 10am and 2pm.
“Our shades are branded and colour-matched to the school, so it becomes part of their school uniform. Students clip the included carry case onto their bag and wear them every day,” Mr Whetton said.
You can learn more about this initiative via the School Shades website.