School-Based Vision Health Initiative Will Provide K-12 Students throughout Connecticut with Free Vision Screenings, Eye Exams and Prescription Glasses
Nearly two dozen students at Silver Lane Elementary School were delighted to try on their new prescription glasses for the first time at the official Vision To Learn launch event in Connecticut. These students were the first in Connecticut to be provided free vision services by Vision To Learn, a nonprofit organization with a mission to help kids in underserved communities get the glasses they need to see clearly at school.
An estimated 40,000 children in Connecticut’s Alliance School Districts go to school every day without the glasses they need to see the board, read a book, or participate in class. Through this program, students in underserved communities throughout the state will be provided a vision screening, eye exam, and – if needed – a pair of prescription glasses, free of charge, by Vision To Learn.
Austin Beutner, Founder and Chairman of Vision To Learn said, “At a time when our country is struggling to figure out what a just and equitable future should look like, this effort provides a good start.” He added, “Our mission is to make sure every child has the glasses they need to succeed in school and in life.”
Lt. Governor Susan Bysiewicz and East Hartford Mayor Michael Walsh participated in Friday’s event, helping students try on their new glasses.
“School-based health services like Vision To Learn are a powerful tool for providing access to care. By addressing common health issues like vision, dental care, hearing, and mental health right on campus, we can help students stay on track academically,” said Lt. Governor Bysiewicz.
“East Hartford is thrilled to be the first community in Connecticut to partner with Vision To Learn,” said Mayor Walsh. “Our students deserve every opportunity to succeed, and helping kids who need glasses is a simple yet effective way to boost their educational progress.”
About one in four children, whether from a family with means or a family struggling to get by, will naturally need glasses. Children who need glasses and don’t have them are more likely to be misdiagnosed with behavioral issues in kindergarten, be considered “slow” learners by 5th grade, and to drop out of high school. Unfortunately, in low-income urban and rural communities, most children who need glasses don’t have them due to financial constraints, language barriers, unresponsive health bureaucracies or the simple fact there are no eye care professionals in their neighborhood. This program solves the problem by bringing the glasses to the kids where they are almost every day—their local neighborhood school.
Here’s how it works: Vision To Learn visits schools, where their staff teams up with classroom educators, school nurses and public health departments to make sure every child receives a vision screening. For children who don’t pass the screening, Vision To Learn vans, staffed with trained eye care professionals, visit schools to provide eye exams and glasses. All free of charge to the child and their family.
Founded in 2012, Vision To Learn has screened over 1.5 million children, and provided over 340,000 eye exams and 270,000 glasses nationwide to students in 14 states and the District of Columbia. East Hartford Public Schools is the first Connecticut school district visited by the program.
“We know many children in our district do not have access to vision services and therefore don’t have the glasses they need to succeed in school and reach their highest potential,” said Superintendent Nathan Quesnel. “Our partnership with Vision To Learn will benefit the students and families in East Hartford tremendously, and we’re proud to be the first district bringing this program to our state.”
A groundbreaking study recently published in The Journal for the American Medical Association Ophthalmology by researchers from the Center for Research and Reform in Education and the Wilmer Eye Institute at Johns Hopkins University shows the impact of providing glasses to children at schools. The researchers conducted the largest and most rigorous study in the U.S. to measure the impact of providing eyeglasses to students directly in their schools. Thousands of children from more than 100 schools in Baltimore participated in the study. Guess what? The children who received glasses did better in school and the impacts were greater than more costly measures such as lengthening the school day, providing computers, or creating charter schools. The children who showed the biggest gains, the equivalent of an additional four to six months of learning, are those who are often the hardest to help—students in the bottom quarter of their class academically and students with learning differences and disabilities.
JHU study senior author Dr. Megan Collins, pediatric ophthalmologist from the Wilmer Eye Institute said, “The Hopkins research study demonstrates how school-based vision care improves vision and learning for students in need. School-based vision care is a simple, yet effective way to help children see more clearly and achieve more academically.”
In Connecticut, Vision To Learn has launched the program guided by a state stakeholders committee, chaired by Dr. Gladis Kersaint, Vice Provost of Strategic Initiatives at the University of Connecticut. “It is wonderful to see this program coming to fruition,” said Dr. Kersaint. “This program addresses a persistent inequity in our public schools – access to vision care – that holds back the academic progress of students. Every student deserves to be able to see clearly at school.”
Silver Lane Elementary School is the first Connecticut school to be visited by this program. 199 students received vision screenings at the school, 57 were provided with eye exams, and 53 students were provided with glasses. 22 of those students received their glasses for the first time at today’s event.
This program is made possible thanks to the support of a long list of generous funders, including Dalio Philanthropies, UnitedHealthcare, Eileen and Andy Eder, Connecticut Community Foundation, Marcus Everard, and SBM Charitable Foundation. Several Connecticut school districts have provided funding for the project through the use of funding targeted to academic recovery post-COVID. “I know how much this work matters because I personally rely on eyeglasses for everything, and I have a grandson who wears eyeglasses too. I feel tremendous gratitude to Vision To Learn for providing not only the eye exams but also the glasses for the children who need them; after all, how can they succeed in school and life without them,” said Barbara Dalio, Founder and Director of Dalio Education. “A significant amount of what children learn is through their eyes, so the inability to see can affect their physical, emotional and social development, and academic and athletic performance,” said John Ryan, CEO of UnitedHealthcare Vision. “We are honored to support this important program to help improve the eye health of children in Connecticut.”
# # #
About East Hartford Public Schools
East Hartford Public Schools (EHPS), located in East Hartford, Connecticut, provides a comprehensive education program for around 6,500 students in grades Pre K-12. Our vision speaks of Schools that are the Pride of our Community. To this end, we are committed to providing a high-quality learning experience for every child, every day.