Nearly 20 Fort Worthington Elementary/Middle School students will be able to see more clearly in class with stylish eyewear thanks to Vision for Baltimore.
On Tuesday, Vision for Baltimore celebrated distributing its 10,000th pair of eyeglasses to Baltimore City Public Schools students during a ceremony in the East Baltimore school’s library.
“It feels unreal because it used to be a little blurry when I tried to look around,” seventh-grader Tyler Frederick said. “When I put the glasses on, I was happy because I was waiting for this ever since I got my eyes checked [here at school].”
Vision for Baltimore operates as a partnership between the Center for Research and Reform in Education at the Johns Hopkins School of Education, the Wilmer Eye Institute at Johns Hopkins Medicine, Baltimore City Public Schools, the Baltimore City Health Department, direct-to-consumer lifestyle brand Warby Parker, and national nonprofit Vision To Learn. The Baltimore City Health Department conducts screenings, Vision To Learn performs eye exams, and Warby Parker distributes eyeglasses as part of its Pupils Project program.
In addition to providing more than $2 million in support over the past seven years, Johns Hopkins works closely with partners to support program implementation, conduct research measuring the impact on learning, and build pathways for sustainability. In reaching this milestone, program partners recognized the critical contributions of funders, including local foundations such as the Abell Foundation and the Annie E. Casey Foundation.
“Vision for Baltimore exemplifies what is possible in Baltimore when multiple stakeholders pull together to solve seemingly intractable problems,” said Ron Daniels, president of Johns Hopkins University. “Helping our public school students to see in the classroom is a focused intervention with a wide-ranging impact that allows our city’s children to achieve their highest aspirations as students and citizens.”
“Helping our public school students to see in the classroom is a focused intervention with a wide-ranging impact that allows our city’s children to achieve their highest aspirations as students and citizens.”
President, Johns Hopkins University
During Wednesday’s ceremony, Daniels joined Sonja Santelises, CEO of Baltimore City Public Schools; Brandon Scott, mayor of Baltimore; Mark Martin, director of the Office of Minority Health and Health Disparities, Maryland Department of Health; Ann Hollister, president of Vision To Learn; and Hannah Reeve Kowalski, senior manager of Social Innovation, Warby Parker, to discuss the importance of the initiative before handing out eyeglasses to the students, including Romeo Merritt, who received the 10,000th pair.
“I will be able to tell people and say it proudly that I’m the 10,000th person to get glasses,” said Merritt, also a seventh-grader. “I was excited to get glasses because I’ve been frustrated since I couldn’t really see some of the [math] problems written on the board. I had to move closer to look at the board and try to answer the problems.”
Since its launch in 2016, Vision for Baltimore and its partners have conducted more than 75,000 vision screenings and 12,000 eye exams, and, as of today, have given away 10,000 pairs of eyeglasses.
As the program enters its seventh year serving Baltimore students, it also celebrates a new $1 million grant from the Maryland Department of Health. The additional funds, administered by the Baltimore City Health Department and Vision To Learn, will support thousands more screenings and eye exams for students. The program will expand operations across 62 schools annually, so that it can now serve all Baltimore City elementary and middle schools over any two-year cycle.
“We are grateful to our Vision for Baltimore partners for providing our students not only improved eyesight but everything that gesture opens up for them, including improved academic achievement,” said Baltimore City Public Schools CEO Sonja Brookins Santelises. “City Schools looks forward to the next 10,000 pairs and expanding the program so even more of our young people can reap the academic and health benefits of good vision.”
Added Megan Collins, Allan and Claire Jensen Professor of Ophthalmology in the Wilmer Eye Institute and the Berman Institute of Bioethics: “Research from Johns Hopkins documents the effectiveness of Vision for Baltimore and how it can serve as a national model to advance health and educational equity.”
Collins led the largest clinical study of the impact of eyeglasses on education ever conducted in the United States, in collaboration with Amanda Neitzel, deputy director of the Center for Research and Reform in Education at the Johns Hopkins School of Education. The study found students who received eyeglasses through Vision for Baltimore scored higher on reading and math tests. Students who struggled the most academically before receiving eyeglasses showed the greatest improvement. The findings, Collins says, have implications for the millions of children across the country who suffer from vision impairment but lack access to pediatric eye care.
“It’s difficult to achieve in the classroom if you can’t see,” said Nia Berry, principal of Fort Worthington Elementary/Middle School. “Giving the students this gift of sight allows them to access the curriculum, and the text that they will read in the classroom.”
Added Mark Martin, director of the Maryland Department of Health’s Office of Minority Health and Health Disparities: “The state of Maryland is pleased to help bridge the gap that exists between students and families and the access to basic vision care. The $1 million grant will help the Vision for Baltimore partnership double previous efforts—providing 8,000 vision screenings in 62 schools by the end of the 2023 school year. We look forward to seeing our partnership continue to unfold in the school buildings and in the lives of the students served.”