By Briana Vannozzi
They’ve got their red carpet walk mastered and they’re showing off their newest accessory to help get ahead in the classroom: a pair of prescription eye glasses.
“I need glasses because when I’m in class I can’t see really the board and sometimes it gets blurry out of nowhere,” said seventh grader Serenity Loyal.
And that’s why Newark Public Schools teamed up with the Helen Keller International ChildSight program and Vision To Learn providing free vision screenings, eye exams and glasses for anyone who needs them.
“I feel pretty happy because the ones I had previously broke. So to be able to get new ones is definitely a happy feeling,” said Javier Serrano who is in seventh grade.
“There is a law that children, all children in all public schools throughout the state, be tested every couple of years,” said Newark Public Schools Superintendent Chris Cerf. “But there’s no law that results in actually getting eye glasses.”
Speedway Academies is the pilot school for the program. Over the past month every student — nearly 600 — received a vision screening and nearly 150 got their new, free glasses today. They pick the style, the shape, the color and showed them off runway style.
The concept is pretty simple, kids with undetected vision problems are more likely to struggle in the classroom, less likely to be reading proficient by the third grade and at greater risk for dropping out.
“They don’t see there’s behavior problems. Here it is, we’re trying to tackle test scores and PARCC but they can’t read. Not because they wouldn’t be able to, but because they couldn’t see it,” said Speedway Academies Principal Atiba Buckman.
“I think it is absolutely amazing, otherwise getting vision insurance is an extra cost so it’s really, really amazing to have it offered through the school,” said mother Tiffani Deans.
Starting in September the initiative will be open to all 25,000 Newark Public School K-8 students. A report from USC Los Angeles says about 175,000 pre-schoolers struggle with untreated, but common, vision problems. Many come from minority communities. That’s why New York Giants football player Jay Bromley dropped by to offer an encouraging word.
“Having to squint at works, making it hard on yourself, it makes you not want to read because reading became more of a challenge. Now that I have glasses, I realize that reading isn’t as much of a challenge and I read more books. And I really enjoy more books more often,” Bromley said.
“Our job is to make sure that every child has an equal opportunity to get a great public education and sometimes there are barriers to that. And certainly if a child doesn’t see well that counts as a barrier, so if we can clear that away that’s really a great thing,” Cerf said.
And that makes heading in for another school day look pretty good.