For East Hartford Silver Lane Elementary School first-grader A’miyah Diaz and many of her classmates, getting prescription eyeglasses has been nothing but cause for celebration.
Thanks to an effort spearheaded by UConn Vice Provost for Strategic Initiatives Gladis Kersaint, Neag School professor and former Neag School dean, students across Connecticut are receiving free vision screenings, eye exams, and, for those in need, prescription eyeglasses as well.
Initiating a conversation that led to the partnership of national nonprofit Vision To Learn with sponsors including Dalio Philanthropies, Connecticut Sun, and UnitedHealthCare, Kersaint saw a valuable opportunity that would serve children across the state.
To date, Vision To Learn has provided vision screenings to more than 2,400 students in East Hartford’s elementary schools. From these screenings, close to 900 students were identified in need of an eye exam, and so far, roughly 350 students have been provided a free eye exam on a mobile clinic. Students who need glasses then select their brand-new frames. Vision To Learn returns to the school in about a month to dispense and fit the glasses to each student.
“Providing eye exams and glasses to students was an easy sell to everyone I spoke with,” Kersaint said at an event held last week at Silver Lane Elementary that brought together East Hartford mayor Mike Walsh, Connecticut’s Lieutenant Governor Susan Bysiewicz, representatives from the Connecticut Department of Education and numerous other agencies, as well as local parents.
“Providing eye exams and glasses to students was an easy sell to everyone I spoke with.” — Gladis Kersaint, UConn Vice Provost for Strategic Initiatives
There, students including Diaz stood at the front of the gymnasium, donning their new eyeglass frames for the first time and marveling at their reflections. “They look cute!” Diaz exclaimed after receiving the new blue frames she had chosen.
“I am most excited for you, the students, who will receive glasses today and who will advance your learning by participating fully and seeing and engaging in the work,” Kersaint told the children in the audience.
“As many of you are aware, for the past couple of years, we faced a number of challenges both as a school and as a community,” said Joe LaBarbera, principal of Silver Lane Elementary. “Today, one of the challenges will no longer be our kids’ ability to see the board or the ability to read the text in front of them.”
East Hartford Superintendent and Neag School alumnus Nathan Quesnel ’01 (ED), ’02 MA, who emceed the event, was quick to credit the Neag School for bringing the effort to fruition for the students in his district.
“I’m really proud of today,” he said. “It’s a culmination of when you have an idea, you implement it, and then you have moms and dads who are sitting in the back watching their kids being showered with love and care.
“We [work to] ‘weave webs of empowering support around kids,’ and an example of that is here,” he added. “I’m just appreciative of the Neag School and obviously to Gladis and Jason [Irizarry, current dean] for thinking of us and being much bigger than just words – they are taking action.”
“We are excited to bring free vision services to Connecticut’s children and fortunate to have Dr. Gladis Kersaint as one of strongest champions,” says Sabrina A. Davis, program manager for Vision To Learn in Connecticut.
Vision To Learn recently marked its 10th anniversary. Over the past decade, Vision To Learn has helped provide more than 1.5 million children with vision screenings, upwards of 340,000 with eye exams, and 270,000 with glasses — all free of charge to children and their families.
In Connecticut, Vision To Learn also serves students in Ansonia, Vernon, Manchester, East Haven, Winchester, and Thompson Public Schools, in addition to community organizations in the summer. For more information on Vision To Learn, please visit visiontolearn.org.