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BetterSD: Giving Students the Vision to Learn

BetterSD: Giving Students the Vision to Learn
Posted on 05/06/2022

On a sunny morning last week in San Diego’s Little Italy, at Washington Elementary School, students walked to activities with friends and a teacher watered the bright yellow flowers in the organic garden. Meanwhile, down the hall in Room 3, there was magic happening.

“I feel like Harry Potter put a spell on me,” the young girl shouted and stretched out her arms to fly. “I’m at Hogwarts,” she said, while gliding around the room, referring to the wizarding school from the popular book series.

For the first time in her young life, the student had been given a pair of glasses, and it forever changed how she looked at the world around.

Student and Nurse

This same magic occurred for more than 27 students at Washington Elementary this week through a partnership between Vision to Learn, Price Philanthropies and San Diego Unified. Trustee Richard Barrera and Principal Juan Nunez congratulated the students on making the change.

“I was a 19-year-old college student before I got my first pair of glasses,” says Barrera. “I didn't know I needed glasses; I just knew I couldn't see what the professor was writing on the board. Glasses opened up a whole new world for me.”

For many adults, sitting through meetings and having trouble with their “focus” can be hard, but for young people without the ability to literally focus on their lesson, the price can be high. In addition to missing out on years of learning, it can negatively impact their feelings about themselves.

An estimated 25 percent of all students need some sort of eye correction to achieve 20/20 vision. However, the problem frequently goes unnoticed for years, as both parents and teachers can easily miss the need for glasses.

Back in Room 3, one of Washington Elementary’s newest students, Yusef from Afghanistan, is getting fitted for his new glasses. They are his first pair.

Yusef speaks comfortably in Farsi with Yalda from Vision to Learn, who ensures all students understand how to wear and care for their new glasses. However, the young boy comfortably switches to English to tell Trustee Barrera how much he loves Washington Elementary and his new life in San Diego. In addition to school work, he tells Barrera the glasses will help him read more books about Spider-Man.

When the latest group of Afghan refugees arrived this year, Vision to Learn had already finished their annual student screening, but Barrera worked with the district to reopen the process. Of the 169 new Afghan students who have been screened so far, about 25 likely need glasses, according to Lilly McDonald, who oversees the vision program for San Diego Unified.

Susan Barndollar, the head of Nursing and Wellness at San Diego Unified, says all students should get screened for their vision, and if parents are unable to afford glasses, her department is ready to help identify low-cost or free options through MediCal and other sources.