Dr. Lisa Santora of Beach Cities Health District fits a pair of glasses on a Washington Elementary student’s face. Photo by Rachel Reeves
Christmas came early for 56 Washington Elementary students, who could hardly contain their excitement as they stood in line Monday to receive the gift of sight.
Some were legally blind; three had sustained significant optic nerve damage. Most had never visited an eye doctor. But on Monday morning, all received a free pair of prescription glasses – for most, their first pair of frames.
Jean Scully of The Rotary Club of Redondo Beach fits glasses on a Washington student. Photo by Rachel Reeves
“I’m going to be able to see the ball now,” said eight-year-old Natalia, who got a new baseball bat for her birthday, “and hit it like [Dodgers infielder] AJ Ellis.”
The glasses were distributed and fitted by Vision to Learn, a two-year-old non-profit organization that works to administer free eye exams and glasses to all students in the greater Los Angeles area who need them. Since March of last year, the organization has seen 15,000 kids and prescribed 11,000 pairs of glasses.
This summer, The Rotary Club of Redondo Beach identified Washington Elementary – a Title I school with 44 percent of its students listed as low-income – as a potential beneficiary of the service Vision to Learn provides.
The Rotary Club approached Vision to Learn, and to secure financial backing, sought support from Beach Cities Health District (BCHD), which willingly and immediately earmarked the relevant funding by way of its micro-enrichment grant program, said BCHD chief medical officer Dr. Lisa Santora.
“When we found out there was this opportunity to partner with Vision to Learn and The Rotary Club to give these kids glasses, it was a no brainer,” Santora said. “Kids cannot learn if they cannot see in school; it decreases their confidence and will probably affect their performance overall, so by giving them the opportunity to see better we’re anticipating better success in school. There’s a direct correlation between health and well-being, and academic performance.”
A student gets a new pair of glasses Monday morning. Photo by Rachel Reeves
Using BCHD funding, Vision to Learn has, over the past six weeks, managed to test the visual capability of every Washington student. Its optometrists identified 56 students as vision-impaired. Those students had the opportunity to choose their own frames, and on Monday went through a fitting process and walked away with a fresh perspective of the world.
“We’re seeing immediate effects, putting glasses on these kids,” said Nora Maclellan, a volunteer with Vision to Learn, who was at Washington on Monday handing out glasses.
“Immediately they do better in school, their behavior in the classroom is better, they’re more attentive and more focused – excuse the pun. Some of these kids might be the class clown or the school bully, some have been misdiagnosed with ADHD, but their performance improves when they get glasses.
“I had a teacher who referred five students in her class to us. Four were considered learning disabled, and as soon as they got glasses every one of them improved immediately. One of the kids was transferred to a gifted class – she went from learning disabled to gifted student in less than two months of getting her glasses. This is the impact.”
A Washington Elementary student gets an early Christmas present, thanks to BCHD, Vision to Learn, and The Rotary Club of Redondo Beach. Photo by Rachel Reeves
Recently the UCLA School of Medicine and Public Health conducted a study into the Vision to Learn model. Based on anecdotal evidence gathered from teachers, students, and parents, the study concluded that in general, students with vision problems have poor academic performance, are likelier to disrupt class, and experience higher levels of stress.
Those with corrected vision, or glasses, exhibit enhanced confidence, better behavior, increased participation, and improved academic performance.
“Teachers are reporting students with corrected vision engaging in more conversation and having less behavioral problems. Kids who can’t see can find themselves ostracized and just frustrated,” Santora said.
Vision to Learn focuses its services on Title I schools, or those students from low-income families with limited opportunities to see an optometrist.
“Some of these families are struggling to pay rent and put food on the table… so getting their child to the eye doctor is impossible,” Maclellan said. “Some of these parents have two, three jobs, and they don’t have the time or the ability to get to the eye doctor.”
That’s where Vision to Learn steps in, she said.
Washington Elementary principal Jackie O’Sullivan was beaming on Monday, as she watched students line up for their first pair of glasses.
“The impact on education right here is impressive,” O’Sullivan said. “Words don’t even really express how awesome this is, this many people coming together for kids just to do it. This is community at work.”
Vision to Learn volunteers, Rotary members, Washington Elementary students and principal, and BCHD staff on Monday morning, celebrating the gifting of 56 new pairs of glasses to Washington students. Photo by Rachel Reeves