DOVER — For 17 students at Towne Point Elementary School the world came into sharper focus Thursday.
Vision to Learn, a nonprofit that recently moved to Delaware, offers free eye examinations and glasses to children in low-income communities.
After launching in New Castle County last October, the organization teamed up with Capital School District and Academy of Dover to move downstate this spring.
“Poor vision should never stand in the way of children learning and your dreaming big about your future,” said Delaware Health Secretary Rita Landgraf to the children at Towne Point while they waited to receive their new glasses.
Statistics show that 15 percent of children in elementary school need new glasses, said Ms. Landgraf.
Kids’ vision issues often go undetected, though.
And with poor vision, it’s hard for children to concentrate. Their tired, aching eyes often cause headaches as wel, she added.
“We’re excited about you getting your glasses ... because many times you don’t even know that you can’t see well,” Ms. Landgraf said.
“You think that the world just looks blurry for everybody, so we’re really excited because we believe that vision is so incredibly important for all of us.”
Finally, she advised, if you want to keep track of your glasses, keep them on top of your head.
About 75 students in the Dover district qualify for new glasses.
That includes Serena Mayo, 9, who received her glasses on Thursday. She picked them out because she said they were her favorite color — pink — and they had butterflies on the side.
“If I don’t have glasses I can’t see far away,” she said.
Serena said she knew she needed glasses when she got bad grades in reading and math.
“I said (to my mom), ‘Well, I can’t see the words on the board.’ ”
“If I take my glasses off I can’t see anything,” added J’avon Ingram, 10.
The world is “blurry,” agreed Chaiyonna Custis, 10.
Before the big day Thursday, school nurse Tracy Emerson worked on screening the kids, getting consent forms and taking them to eye exams at Vision to Learn’s mobile clinic.
“It’s really hard for the school nurses to find resources for parents who don’t have vision insurance,” she said.
Each year, at best, she said she probably can get two or three pairs of glasses for kids.
“What an important thing it is for children to be able to have good vision,” said Capital Superintendent Dr. Michael Thomas to the group Thursday.
“One of the things we do a great deal of, aside from reading and math, is to work with children and their families, providing them with all the things that are so important to getting to the point of learning reading and math.”
Vision to Learn started in 2012 in California where it has helped more than 25,000 children, the group claims.
The organization made its first step in a nationwide roll-out when it moved to Delaware. It’s already helped about 500 children in New Castle County get new glasses.
Before, Vision to Learn had been supported by donations but in Delaware, federal Medicaid reimbursements cover a portion of the cost of its services.
The state health department will also track and assist the 5 percent to 10 percent of children identified as having other health care needs.
Tara Quinn, regional director of Vision to Learn, said that plan is to expand to low-income schools statewide within a year.
By the end of the school year, she said the program will have expanded to Sussex County.