Mayor Robert Garcia poses with Whittier Elementary students after they received their new glasses.
Children at Whittier Elementary School were presented with a valuable gift today, as Mayor Robert Garcia joined Vision To Learn, which rolled its mobile eye exam bus out onto the playground and distributed free glasses to over 60 children.
The event was the launch of a new program that the mayor has championed, which aims to provide nearly 8,000 low-income Long Beach Unified School District children with a free pair of eye glasses. Speaking to the school children, parents and school administrators from on top of a podium positioned in front of the mobile eye exam unit, Garcia recounted growing up wearing glasses, reminding the students, some of whom were receiving their first pair ever, that glasses aren’t such a bad thing.
“The coolest kids in school wear glasses,” Garcia said.
Cool factor aside, Garcia and other presenters made note of how poor vision and leaving it unaddressed can lead to poor performance in school. He added that with many of the students’ parents not having equal resources, the Vision to Learn program—a program that has been funded in part by grants from California Resources—kind of levels the playing field.
“There are 8,000 kids in Long Beach Unified that don’t have glasses that need glasses and these are 8,000 kids who are from low income families so they don’t have the same opportunities to get glasses like some of the other kids do,” Garcia said. “This is a great way to make sure that all of them have the same shot in school that all their peers do.”
Vision to Learn is a non-profit that got its start nearly three years ago in the Los Angeles County School District. Its mission is to partner with schools and community organizations to address the lack of access to vision care among elementary school students that come from low-income households. Its founder, Austin Beutner, said that nearly one in seven kids in California don’t have access to the glasses that they need to succeed in both education and life.
“They struggle, they get misdiagnosed will all sorts of maladies and they get lots of negative reinforcement that they’re not a good learner when actually the problem is really simple to solve,” Beutner said. “Provide the kid with a pair of glasses.”
Today, Joe Carter, a fourth grade student at Whittier, received his second pair of glasses. He lost his other pair and was unable to get new ones when they were found broken. Although he expressed interest in meeting the mayor for the first time, he was especially excited about getting a new pair of spectacles.
“It makes it easier for me to see, read and do a lot of stuff because when I didn’t have glasses I couldn’t do nothing really because it’s hard to see from a far distance,” Cox said.
Cox’s classmate, Analisa Gomez said that she started having trouble in kindergarden but didn’t get her first pair of glasses until the 3rd grade. She loves to read but gets headaches when she does. She also required special attention during class so she was able to read materials on the board, something that she doesn’t require now that she has glasses.
“Before my teacher would always have to zoom in so I could see and if I get glasses he won't have to do that anymore,” Gomez said. “When I read I can just read normal and not feel the pain or anything.”
The process is quick and simple, and being based on a bus, the doctor comes to the students. Students are given an eye exam where their required prescription is diagnosed, they choose a frame that they like and within two weeks the bus re-visits the school, this time to deliver the students their glasses.
In just under three years, the organization has carried out nearly 31,000 eye exams, distributed 23,761 pairs of glasses and visited nearly 1,000 schools. In Long Beach specifically, they have examined over 500 students and distributed 377 pairs of glasses. Dr. Amanda Hykin, the managing optometrist for the group said that some of the children she’s seen have severe vision problems, with some of them not knowing any better.
“Being on this vehicle and working with this program I was a little bit shocked, seeing how many of these kids that we see that need glasses desperately and don’t have them because they’ve never seen an optometrist, they’ve lost or broken their glasses and can’t get a new pair for one reason or another,” Hykin said.
The cost of a pair of glasses, which she pegged at running at least $100 normally, not including the price of an exam, combined with parents inability to take time off from work to take their children to see a doctor can really exacerbate the problems facing the patients she sees.
LBUSD Lead Nurse Joyce Cox said that vision related issues in school children is a big problem, so big in fact that the state mandates the testing of vision during kindergarden, second, fifth and eighth grades. Cox said that the over 70 nurses and health assistants she oversees in the district have expressed overwhelming gratitude over the program’s arrival in Long Beach.
“This program really is saving many of the children in the district,” Cox said. “You can imagine just being able to see items on the board and being abel to read words on paper is going to positively impact a child’s ability to learn and do well in school and ever more so, affect their self esteem. It’s huge. You can’t overstate it.”
Cox said that currently the program is working with 15 of the city’s Track B schools but the hope is to expand it to the traditional schools and eventually all of the K-5 schools in the city.