By Michael Purzycki and Austin Beutner
Once again, Delaware is first in the nation – this time in finding a solution to help kids do better in school. Since 2014, the state of Delaware has been working with the nonprofit organization, Vision To Learn, to solve a problem of which most are unaware: many children are unable to see the board, read a book, or complete their homework, because they lack a pair of glasses.
Uncorrected vision issues can make schoolwork difficult, causing kids to fall behind in reading and math, and can affect classroom behavior. Equally concerning are the high rates of youth in juvenile detention facilities with vision issues. A kindergartener with vision issues is often misdiagnosed as a behavior problem or considered a “problem child.” By fourth grade, he or she is mislabeled a slow learner, falls behind, and receives nothing but negative feedback. By eighth grade, rewards on the street are easier to find than they are in school. A study of children at King County Juvenile Center in the state of Washington found that 80 percent had uncorrected vision issues.
Vision To Learn’s mobile clinics bring the solution every day to kids at school. Trained eye care professionals provide eye exams to students, and students choose their glasses from a wide selection of colors, sizes and styles. Every student who needs glasses is provided with them, free of charge, regardless of insurance coverage, immigration status, or family’s income.
The benefits are profound. Research shows that after receiving glasses from Vision To Learn, students’ math and reading grades increase, their classroom behavior improves, and they are better able to focus on class discussion and assignments. The stigma of wearing glasses is reduced because kids’ classmates receive them at the same time. The program helps not only the students receiving glasses, but the entire school as it is easier for teachers to teach and for the whole class to learn.
Vision To Learn serves students statewide in schools in all three counties, as well as numerous community organizations including the Boys and Girls Club, YMCA, summer camp programs and health clinics. In 2015, Vision To Learn Delaware received approval for Medicaid reimbursement and now receives 40 percent of its funding from Medicaid and 60 percent from local foundations, corporations and individuals. To date, Vision To Learn has given exams to over 3,500 children and provided over 3,000 with glasses, free of charge, throughout the state, with the majority being in New Castle County and the Wilmington area. The work will continue in the years to come to ensure that every student who needs glasses is provided with them.
Vision To Learn is a public-private partnership which works. Government, philanthropy and the private sector all worked together to launch the program in Wilmington in 2014.
Senator Chris Coons and former Gov. Jack Markell helped bring together health insurers like United Healthcare and Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield, and sports stars like WNBA player Elena Delle Donne, to be a part of the program. The effort is supported by the Longwood Foundation, Arsht Cannon Fund, AstraZeneca, Rodel Foundation, Good Samaritan, The Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation and a long list of local donors. These funders recognize that the Vision To Learn program is a cost-effective way to solve a problem with broad implications.
Much has been written about poverty in America. But what if you learned one in five kids in public schools lack the glasses they need to see the board, read a book, or participate in class? What chance does that child have to succeed in school, let alone break free from poverty? With the help of many in the community, Vision To Learn is giving kids in Delaware kids a chance to succeed in school and in life.
Michael Purzycki is the Mayor of Wilmington and Austin Beutner is the founder of Vision To Learn.