Vision to Learn Launches at Lovejoy Elementary

Article provided by the Des Moines Public Schools Community Relations Department and written by Michael Wellman

A press conference May 15 at Lovejoy Elementary really opened some eyes. It was the community kickoff for Vision to Learn (VTL), and it brought into sharp focus the fact that eyewear can be just as critical to learning as good schools and teachers.

Founded in 2012 in Los Angeles, VTL provides children with free eye exams and free glasses by bringing its mobile eye clinics to schools and other neighborhood youth and community organizations. Now in 180 cities nationwide, VTL has served more than 85,000 kids.

Thanks to a partnership among the Community Foundation of Greater Des Moines, Prevent Blindness Iowa, and the United Way of Central Iowa, VTL established a presence in Des Moines this spring. This partnership made it possible for 2,000 students at Lovejoy, Capitol View, King, Moulton, and Monroe elementary schools to receive eye exams. Those identified through the initial screening were referred to the VTL mobile clinic, and ultimately 160 were selected to receive free eyeglasses in frame styles of their choosing.

 “Thanks to this partnership … we are able to provide one more vital tool that supports our students, enhances their education, and puts them on a clearer path to graduate and succeed,” said Des Moines Public Schools Superintendent Tom Ahart.

According to United Way of Central Iowa president Elisabeth Buck, United Way hopes to expand the VTL program over the next two years to include all area schools where more than 50% of the student body comes from low-income households.

Research indicates that more than 90% of kids from low-income homes who need eyeglasses do not have them.

“This innovative program is another way we are mobilizing our community to help all children read proficiently by third grade,” said Buck, directly linking VTL to the Read to Succeed literacy initiative that was launched locally a year ago.

The big reveal at the event allowed the blurry fog to finally lift for 20 lucky Lovejoy kids.

“Okay, Cruisers,” said Lovejoy Community in Schools Coordinator Bobbie Jo Sheridan. “You’ve all been asking me for weeks: ‘When do I get my glasses?’ Well, today is your day.”

One by one their names were called and they came forward to look through their brand new windows on the world.

“YES!” said Isaac, as soon as his slid into place.

Cheyenne grinned and nodded in vigorous appreciation.

“Y’all look all big,” was how Natasia put it, and everyone clapped and laughed.

It was almost like they were receiving a diploma. That destination is still a long way off, but now the way there is clear to see.

Prairie Meadows has donated $5.5 million to the United Way of Central Iowa. This number includes a $10,000 Betterment Grant to the Vision to Learn program.

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