Vision To Learn celebrates launch in Charleston County

January 11, 2022
a little girl with beads and bows in her hair puts on a pair of glasses, looking at a smiling man who crouches down to be at eye level; behind them Sir Purr, the Carolina Panthers mascot, looms
Vision To Learn founder Austin Beutner grins at Dynasty Witherspoon as she tries on her glasses. Photos by Sarah Pack

By the time Charleston Mayor John Tecklenburg reached seventh grade, he was coming home from school every day complaining of horrible headaches. Eventually, his parents took him for an eye exam, and Tecklenburg got his first pair of glasses.

“I could not believe that from my normal position in the back row of the classroom that I could actually clearly see what was on the blackboard for the very first time in my life! And my headaches immediately went away,” Tecklenburg said Monday to a group of Stono Park Elementary students gathered to receive their first pairs of glasses from national nonprofit Vision To Learn.

Supporters of the nonprofit’s mission to ensure that students, especially those from low-income families with less access to eye care, get the glasses they need to see clearly were gathered to cheer on the children.

“Your future will be brighter as you are able to put on the glasses you need to see your homework, to see the board and to do the things that will make you the most amazing leaders,” U.S. Sen. Tim Scott told the children. “You can do anything you want to do in life. I hope you remember just one thing – dream really big dreams, and your glasses will help you see a better future.”

Scott, too, showed the children the glasses that he wears to do his work.

Senator Scott, holding a microphone in one hand, leans toward the crowd of small children with his other hand to his ear  
U.S. Sen Tim Scott gets the kids revved up before handing out glasses.

Vision To Learn was started in 2012. Founder Austin Beutner realized that one in four children needs assistance to see. He figured that providing children with an eye exam and, if necessary, glasses, both at no charge, would help them with their schoolwork and, in turn, with their self-esteem.

Johns Hopkins researchers recently published a study looking at the results of the program in Baltimore between 2016 and 2019. They concluded that students gained the equivalent of two to four months of additional education when they received glasses. The lowest-performing students and students in special education classes gained four to six months of learning – simply by being able to see.

That, Beutner said, is the “miracle” of glasses.

a man stands at a podium and reads a proclamation off a piece of paper 
Charleston Mayor John Tecklenburg reads a proclamation announcing Jan. 10 as Vision To Learn Day.

It was that miracle that moved Charlestonian Henry Blackford III to pursue bringing the program to South Carolina. After three years of behind-the-scenes work, the program launched last fall in Title I schools in the Charleston County School District.

MUSC Health, through MUSC Children’s Health and the MUSC Health Storm Eye Institute, provided funds to help to outfit a mobile exam van.

Children at participating schools first go through a screening process. From there, children who are flagged for follow-up get an eye exam in the van, and those who need glasses can choose their frames. Children in need of additional eye care receive referrals to multiple providers around town so that their parents can choose a doctor.

a little girl in glasses stands with her hands in pockets while two men crouch on either side of her, Sen. Tim Scott giving her two thumbs up 
U.S. Sen. Tim Scott gives a thumbs-up to Kenia Matias-Mazariegos and her new glasses as Austin Beutner looks on.

So far, Vision To Learn has screened 5,739 children and anticipates providing 1,700 pairs of glasses this school year.

CCSD chief operating officer Jeff Borowy particularly commended the district’s nursing staff, who have coordinated the program during the pandemic while also taking on the tasks of contract tracing and vaccination.

Monday’s event wasn’t the first distribution of glasses in the district. Children at other schools have already received their glasses and had that same revelation that Tecklenburg did when he got his first pair.

“I cannot believe I have been living my whole life in this blur!” exclaimed one Pinehurst Elementary third grader upon receiving her new glasses.


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