A Vision to Learn
Tamika Joyner-Lewis, Associate Director, Growth & Community Engagement for Rocketship DC
As a native Washingtonian, I was proud to think I knew everything there is to know about services in the District of Columbia. However, in 2018, I was proven wrong. It was then that I was approached by our National Director of Operation Services, Larisa Yarmolovich, to assist her on a project she was working on to address vision services for our students.
Many of our students struggled to excel in class simply because they could not see the content written on the board. So Larisa and I investigated the existing systems for administering and accessing vision services and found that first off, vision screenings were being conducted by school nurses who lacked the capacity to screen over 600 students at the start of a school year. This resulted in screenings often being done late or not at all. Second, families were required to take their students to an optician for a vision exam after being screened, but many families were unable to do so. And if they did manage to get into an optician, they were then asked to purchase glasses on their own, which many could not afford.
Larisa and I searched for mobile vision services, but to our surprise, there were none in Washington D.C. It was then that we stumbled upon Vision To Learn, a national nonprofit based in Los Angeles, which operates approximately 50 mobile vision units across 16 states, including in nearby Baltimore, MD. Not only does the organization visit schools to assist school nurses to administer vision screenings and conduct exams with an optician on the van, but they also assist students with choosing frames on-site for their free glasses and prescriptions.
We were thrilled to learn that Vision To Learn could help our students and that the organization was trying to get to D.C. for some time, but they needed legislative approval to operate in the District. So we decided to help Vision To Learn to obtain the necessary legislation from the DC City Council.
After a three-year effort that included meeting with several DC City Council members, we were successful in getting Ward 8 Councilmember Trayon White to introduce Vision To Learn to the Council’s Education Committee, and Chairman Phil Mendelson to introduce legislation. Last year, Vision To Learn entered into an agreement with the Department of Health to bring its van to the District of Columbia to offer free vision services and glasses to ALL public school students. And I am proud to say that we worked with other DC Public Charter and DC Public School District schools to write letters and present testimony to get the legislation passed. Thanks to our partnership with Vision To Learn, more than 900 DC Rocketeers have received vision screenings this year, nearly 280 received eye exams, and over 160 have been provided with glasses – all at no cost to the students or their families.
Earlier this month, our efforts culminated in Vision To Learn visiting Rocketship Rise Academy for a celebratory event with community stakeholders and parents. They gave 64 Rocketship students brand-new glasses! Our Rocketeers smiled from ear to ear as they showed all their friends their new frames.
As a native of DC’s Wards 7 and 8, where two of our campuses are located, I know firsthand the challenges that our communities face. The partnership between Rocketship DC Schools and Vision To Learn is a step towards addressing some of these challenges and supporting the wellness of the whole student so that they can best learn.
But it is just one step. It is essential that we continue to advocate for the needs of our students and families. As a community, we must work together to ensure that our students have access to the resources they need to succeed – from glasses to food to housing.
Published on March 30, 2023