What would you do if you found out a simple intervention costing just over $100 would help a child feel better about themselves and do much better in school? And, that millions of children across the country would benefit from this miraculous treatment? Our hope is that you would move heaven and Earth to make sure every child gets this help: a pair of glasses.
That’s what Hawaii is doing by supporting the work of nonprofit organizations, Vision To Learn and Project Vision Hawaii: helping students get the vision screenings, eye exams and glasses they need to succeed in school and in life.
In Hawaii, we’ve seen firsthand what a difference this program makes. But today we have even better evidence for the program’s effectiveness, thanks to a groundbreaking study published by researchers from the Center for Research and Reform in Education, and the Wilmer Eye Institute at Johns Hopkins University.
The researchers conducted the most rigorous study in the U.S. to measure the impact of providing eyeglasses to students directly in their schools. Thousands of children from 100-plus schools in Baltimore participated in the study. 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.
Here in Hawaii, more than 65,000 keiki have been provided with vision screenings, and over 6,500 with eye exams through this program. Across the country, Vision To Learn has helped provide more than 1.2 million children with vision screenings, 300,000 with eye exams and nearly 250,000 with glasses.
The program visits Title I schools, where its staffers and volunteers team up with school nurses to ensure 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.
The problem is not a new one. About 1 in 4 children will naturally need glasses. Children who need glasses but don’t have them are more likely to be misdiagnosed with behavioral issues in kindergarten, be considered “slow” learners by fifth grade and drop out of high school.
Unfortunately, in low-income and rural communities, most children who need glasses don’t have them due to financial constraints, language barriers, unresponsive health bureaucracies or simply, having no eye care professionals in their neighborhood. This problem-solving program brings the glasses to the neighborhood school.
In Hawaii, government leaders worked with Vision To Learn, Project Vision Hawaii and our philanthropic community — including First Hawaiian Bank Foundation, the Harold K.L. Castle Foundation, Kamehameha Schools and Atherton Family Foundation — to launch the program in 2015. Hawaii’s MedQuest helps reimburse the cost of these efforts.
This public-private partnership in Hawaii is a national example of how the public and private sector can come together to solve problems.
Kelani, a Molokai eighth-grader, had suspected that she needed glasses, but her family couldn’t afford to see an optometrist. From the moment she stepped foot into the clinic, she was nervous but excited. After receiving her glasses, Kelani told Vision To Learn, “When I was in fifth grade I couldn’t see, but now that I have my glasses it gave me the opportunity to succeed in my classes.” That’s a vision for the future we can all support.
Austin Beutner is founder/chairman of Vision To Learn; Josh Green, M.D., is lieutenant governor of Hawaii.