Elementary school was a challenging time for me. I immigrated to this country when I was 5 years old and started school in a new country. I was learning a new language while my family was struggling financially.
I quickly learned that I was having a hard time in school — not because I wasn't trying, but because I couldn't see the chalkboard. Glasses and eye exams were a luxury we couldn't afford. After a few years, I got my first pair. And what a difference that made in my learning and my ability to succeed in and outside the classroom. I still wear glasses to this day.
When I became aware of Vision To Learn, which provides glasses to students who need them and can’t afford them, I jumped at the chance to partner with them. I connected them with our Long Beach Unified School District (LBUSD) in 2014.
Vision To Learn has helped almost 4,000 kids in Long Beach get eye exams and glasses, and plans to help more than 3,000 additional kids in the coming year.
In fact, thanks to our partnership, Long Beach is on its way to becoming the largest city in America where every child who needs glasses will have access to free eye exams and glasses.
Recently, I joined Vision To Learn and several members of the Los Angeles Clippers basketball team when they donated glasses to dozens of excited students. These students and the thousands of students who have received glasses so far are expected to make dramatic improvements in their academic performance. Researchers at UCLA’s Mattel Children’s Hospital found that students who received glasses from Vision to Learn saw their math and reading scores increase along with their grades overall.
Kayla Choung was a first grader at Whittier Elementary when she received a brand new pair of eyeglasses free of cost along with 65 of her classmates. She was among the estimated two million children in the United States who lack the eyeglasses they need. Since Vision to Learn’s establishment in 2012, they’ve made it their mission to provide free glasses to students from low-income families to help them succeed in the classroom and in their daily lives.
It is a tragedy so many students struggle for something most of us take for granted. While an eye exam or glasses may seem routine to many, 95% of first graders in low-income communities who need glasses don’t have them. In addition, nearly 90% of the students that Vision to Learn serves are students who live in poverty.
This service is critical as students cannot learn if they cannot see. Students who are not proficient in reading by the end of third grade are more likely to drop out of school.
Poor vision, when left unaddressed, contributes to poor academic performance. It is simply unconscionable to let these students fall behind when the problem is so easily solved. Strategic partnerships like ours can help fill the gap when access to services is not available for these disadvantaged children.
Vision To Learn is well on its way to reaching more than 80,000 students in Los Angeles County in the next two years. These are 80,000 students that will excel academically and feel more confident in being able to see and contribute to the world around them.
I want to personally thank Vision To Learn’s Founder and Chair Austin Beutner and the entire Vision To Learn team for supporting our students. I also want to thank Superintendent Chris Steinhauser, the LBUSD Board of Education and the LBUSD staff and nurses for supporting this effort as well. Long Beach is stronger because of this partnership to improve the quality of life and academic excellence for our most vulnerable students.
Our community is stronger when all our kids have an equal chance to succeed.
Mayor Robert Garcia has a doctorate in education.