By Monica Scott
GRAND RAPIDS, MI – Seventh-grader Frederick Charles said he struggled to see the board in his classroom and it was irritating and tiring.
On Thursday, Jan. 24 Charles was among 22 Aberdeen PK-8 School students to receive free eyeglasses from the California-based nonprofit Vision to Learn through a new Grand Rapids Public Schools partnership.
An estimated 3,000 district students in need will get glasses this semester.
“I used to have to get closer to the board just to read a few letters,’’ said Charles, removing his new glasses and noting he couldn’t read something at a distance.
“I knew glasses would help me see and read better and make things easier. This is just a real blessing to me.’’
Ann Hollister, president of the Vision To Learn headquartered in Los Angeles, said uncorrected vision issues can make schoolwork difficult, causing kids to fall behind, and in some instances affect classroom behavior.
“This is a problem that can be fixed,’’ she said. “By bringing free eye exams to kids at school, Vision To Learn helps them get the glasses they need to succeed.’’
Hollister said the nonprofit’s founder, Austin Beutner is native of Grand Rapids who has long wanted to launch a program in the district. She said Vision To Learn also provides exams and eyeglasses to low-income communities in Detroit, Flint and Redford.
Superintendent Teresa Weatherall Neal said the district has been working with the nonprofit for more than six months to help their students do better in school.
“It is rare a single intervention can make such as immediate and meaningful difference in a student’s education,’’ she said.
Breasha White, 11, said she can see better with her new, stylish glasses. She said sometimes when she would read up close with her old glasses it would be blurry.
Hollister said some students received glasses for the first time and others needed a new pair after a prescription adjustment.
Joann Hoganson, community wellness division director for the Kent County Health Department, said the health department provides vision screening for students in Kent County under the Public Health Code. She said they screen 92,000 students per year from September through May from preschool to high school.
However, she said one of their biggest challenges is connecting students with the glasses they need once the department identifies that they have a vision deficit.
Hoganson said there are few reasons, including there is often an expense involved but explained even when the child has Medicaid there could be transportation or a work conflict.
“We do the screening, identify what kids need further but Vision to Learn steps in to fill in that gap so kids get what they need,’’ she said.
She said other groups assist schools in the county in spots such as Cherry Health and the Lions Club. For example, GRPS has worked with Cherry Health in the past.
In the past month, 174 Aberdeen students were provided with vision screenings, 35 students or 20 percent received eye exams, and 22 were prescribed or provided glasses.