By Mike Duggan and Austin BeutnerA new kind of vehicle can be found on the streets of the Motor City, and it’s helping kids succeed. Since last fall, Vision To Learn’s mobile vision clinics have been visiting schools to provide eye exams and glasses to students, free of charge. The City of Detroit is working with the nonprofit organization 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.
The Detroit Health Department has long provided vision screenings to all school children, and nearly one in five students are typically identified with uncorrected vision issues. Despite the health department’s efforts, only 2% of these students ended up getting an eye exam, and almost all did not get 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 kindergartner with vision issues is often misdiagnosed as a behavior problem or considered a “problem child.” By 4th grade he or she is mislabeled a slow learner, falls behind and receives nothing but negative feedback. By 8th grade, rewards on the street are easier to find than they are in school. A study of children at King County Juvenile Center in Washington found that 80% 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, 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 is on track to provide eye exams to 3,500 children in Detroit by the end of the school year, and 3,000 with glasses. The work will continue next year 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 Detroit. The Detroit Health Department stepped up its vision screening efforts so every child in public school can be helped. School leaders worked to educate students and parents about the program. The Detroit Pistons organization helped raise awareness of the issue, and the players made wearing glasses cool.
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? Providing kids with glasses will help them succeed in school and in life.
Mike Duggan is the mayor of Detroit and Austin Beutner is the founder of Vision To Learn.