November 5, 2021
Thousands of Students See Success Thanks to Free Eye Exams and Glasses
Success of Vision for Baltimore program touted in medical journal
City Schools staff and partners work to support our students’ health and well-being, bringing services right to the school building. “It’s incredibly important to make wellness programs accessible,” says Dr. Louise Fink, Director Home and Hospital/Health Services.
We know from research and experience that this type of support — meeting families and students where they are, leveraging school buildings, staff, and partners to make programs accessible to everyone — is key to students’ success in school. Now a study published in the peer-reviewed medical journal JAMA Ophthalmology shows just how transformative it can be.
Since 2016, students identified through the Baltimore City Health Department’s vision screening program have been referred to a more extensive eye exam offered by the national nonprofit Vision to Learn. Then, should they require corrective lenses, they are given prescription eyeglasses donated by Warby Parker. In the past five years, 8,300 students at 150 schools have received free glasses.
“We all know glasses can help you see,” said Dr. Fink. “But what the study really shows is that delivering school-based wraparound services for students can have so much more of an impact than programs that put the onus on families to navigate complex processes and paperwork.”
The program, Vision for Baltimore, partnered with Johns Hopkins researchers from the Wilmer Eye Institute and School of Education for a study on its effects on student achievement. It was the largest clinical study of the impact of glasses on education ever conducted in the United States.
Now, the results are in with the study “Effect of a Randomized Interventional School-Based Vision Program on Academic Performance of Students in Grades 3 to 7,” published in September.
The conclusion: The glasses boosted the students’ reading and math scores, with especially impressive gains seen in students who had previously struggled on tests. According to the study’s lead author, the gains were equivalent to two to four months of additional education.
Key to the success of Vision for Baltimore has been the ways in which it goes beyond the typical vision services offered by the state: students took eye exams at their schools and the free, fashionable Warby Parker glasses were delivered directly to them. They also received free replacements for lost or broken pairs. City Schools staff was integral in enrolling students in the program, conducting outreach to parents, and making sure that students wore their glasses properly.
“Every partner brought unique expertise to Vision for Baltimore that made for a seamless process for students and families,” said Dr. Fink. “Even something as simple as the design of the glasses. Warby Parker glasses are stylish. Kids want to wear them. Those factors can be a real difference-maker in whether or not kids benefit from efforts like these.”
With the great results of the study, Vision for Baltimore will continue and grow. Dr. Fink sees leveraging funding from existing programs like Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) to be key to the effort.
“When we take kids into our schools, we need to take care of them. And we have to do it the right way.”
Said Dr. Santelises in the Johns Hopkins publication HUB, “Vision for Baltimore means more than just corrected vision for students in city schools. It's a gift that supports their ability to see and interact clearly with their lessons, as well as a boost to self-esteem. We are thankful for this program because it removes a barrier to success for our students, especially those struggling with access to medical care.”