What if doing better in school was as simple as putting on a pair of glasses? The reality is – it is.

A groundbreaking study by John Hopkins University recently revealed the profound impact of providing glasses to students at school shows dramatic increases in learning. The research looked at thousands of children from more than 100 schools in Baltimore.

The results showed those who received glasses did better in school, with impacts greater than other more costly measures. Those who showed the most gains, equivalent to an additional four to six months of learning, are those at the bottom of the class academically or with learning differences and disabilities.

San Diego Foundation (SDF) recently partnered with Vision to Learn, a national nonprofit organization, to bring that same impact to San Diego County. Harborside Elementary School in Chula Vista was the first to receive exams and glasses as part of the program.

Focusing on the Future

About one in four children need glasses – and many who don’t have access to them are more likely to be misdiagnosed with behavioral issues, be considered ‘slow learners’ or drop out of high school.

Founded by Austin Beutner in 2012, Vision to Learn brings vision care directly to classrooms to help families who may be unable to afford eye care, have language barriers or perhaps cannot afford to take off work to get to an appointment.

At each school, students receive eye exams and glasses with their customized prescription – free of charge to families.

“We’ve helped over 400,000 kids now with exams in fifteen states. But really half our work, more than 200,000 pairs of glasses, have been in California,” Ann Hollister, President of Vision to Learn, said.

At Harborside Elementary alone, more than 40 students received their free glasses with a special meet and greet from the San Diego Padres Friar mascot.

“We don’t just give them (glasses); we want them to wear them,” Hollister said. “That’s why partnerships, like with the San Diego Foundation and the San Diego Padres, make a difference. We can give the glasses – but the Padres make them cool.”

Eye-Opening Effects for Students

Vision to Learn

One by one, students at Harborside Elementary stepped up to the plate aside the Friar to try on their glasses for the first time.

“A couple of the students that I helped put glasses on for the first time stepped back and said ‘woah!’,” Pamela Gray Payton, SDF Vice President and Chief Impact and Partnerships Officer, said. “It was very meaningful.”

Students like Brittany, a fifth grader, noticed the difference immediately after trying on her lenses.

“Without my glasses, it’s very bad. Nothing is clear,” she said. “With my glasses, it’s very clear.”

As part of the Healthy Children & Families and Education initiatives, San Diego Foundation provided $125,000 in funding to bring Vision to Learn to San Diego and boost health and education equity in the classroom.

“For us, education equity is critical. Thousands of children sitting in classrooms in San Diego County are unable to see the board or read their assignments and do their best in school,” Gray Payton said. “We really saw this as an opportunity to partner with an organization that could help resolve at least the vision problem so students could get back to school and fully participate.”

Harborside Elementary was the first stop on the list of 25 schools across the county receiving services from Vision to Learn. In the end, more than 1,300 students will receive the glasses they need to succeed.

Learn more about how San Diego Foundation is Fostering Equity of Opportunity.