By Levar Stoney and Austin Beutner
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?
That’s why in Richmond we have put together an important public/private non-profit partnership to provide glasses to thousands of students who need them to overcome hurdles to learning and succeed in school and in life.
With the help of the city and Richmond Public Schools, the national nonprofit Vision To Learn is collaborating with local nonprofit Conexus Vision on a project to provide free vision screenings, eye exams, and glasses to every student, K-12, in Richmond Public Schools.
Vision To Learn operates mobile vision clinics that serve young people at schools and community organizations and provides eye exams and glasses, free of charge. Every student who needs glasses gets them. Over the next few years, there are plans to expand this service to kids in low-income communities throughout Virginia.
The benefits of good vision are profound. Research shows that after receiving glasses, students’ math and reading grades increase, their classroom behavior improves, and they are better able to focus on class discussion and assignments.
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.
Uncorrected vision issues can make schoolwork difficult, causing students to fall behind.
A kindergartener with vision issues is often misdiagnosed as a behavior problem. By fourth grade this same child is mislabeled a slow learner or considered a “problem child,” falls behind, and receives nothing but negative feedback.
By eighth grade, the child drops out to look for reward on the street.
Equally troubling are several studies showing more than 60 percent of youth in juvenile detention centers have uncorrected vision issues.
The city of Richmond’s collaboration with Vision To Learn and Conexus is a public-private partnership that works. Government, philanthropy and the private sector all came together to launch the program in Virginia.
School leaders are working to educate students and parents about the program. And financial support for this effort has come from many individuals and organizations including the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, the Robins Foundation, and Richmond Community Foundation.
The Richmond community faces many challenges in helping our children be successful. Seeing the chalkboard should not be one of them. If hindsight is 20/20 vision, then hindsight tells us this is a partnership that works.
We know that because of what we saw the other day at Elizabeth Redd Elementary School, when we handed out 97 new pairs of glasses to students who needed them — roughly one-fourth of the entire school.
“I can see!” one boy said triumphantly. It’s simple. We just need the vision to make it happen.
By Levar Stoney is the mayor of Richmond and Austin Beutner is the founder of Vision To Learn.