Have you ever seen a child put on a pair of corrective glasses for the first time? The smile and joy are contagious!
On the other hand, imagine going to school without being able to see properly. Odds are academic success is not going to happen with this impairment.
This is one of the many barriers to learning that underserved children in our community face on a daily basis. In conversations with school nurses, we learned that 30 percent of students fail their school vision screenings and 30 percent of those students never end up getting glasses, which adds up to thousands of students across Erie County. This is not due to a lack of effort by the nurses or schools, nor is it because parents don’t want the best for their children. However, it is a direct result of challenges families face preventing them from accessing the needed support, often transportation.
Through the community school initiative, we are addressing this serious barrier to learning. United Way piloted a mobile vision clinic with a national organization that specializes in providing vision services to students, Vision To Learn. This partnership was a success and plans are in place to significantly expand the program in the 2022-23 school year.
Vision To Learn is an effective and efficient program that brings vision support right to the students at their school. It is essentially an optometrist’s office in a Sprinter van.
How does it work? Once nurses identify the students who fail their vision screening, families have the option of taking advantage of the mobile vision exams and glasses, at no cost to the family. Once children have their exams, they may then select from a variety of eye glass frames. The new pair of glasses will be delivered directly to the students at their schools shortly thereafter.
In total, 143 students received glasses through the recent pilot at Diehl, Edison, and Pfeiffer-Burleigh Elementary Schools, all United Way community schools. Our partners at Vision To Learn shared the severity of vision correction they saw in Erie. In some instances, students had completed almost the entirety of elementary school with severe vision correction needs. Through this pilot, generously supported by several local anonymous donors, these 143 students received vision correction including replacement glasses, free of charge. United Way and Vision To Learn are finalizing plans for an expanded pilot next school year.