MUSC part of national effort to get kids glasses they need to see and learn

January 29, 2024
Children and adults stand on stage smiling. The kids are wearing new eyeglasses.
Children at Eagle Nest Elementary School in North Charleston show off their new eyeglasses as adults who are involved or support the Vision To Learn program stand behind them. Photos by Sarah Pack

Two rows of Eagle Nest Elementary School students in North Charleston pulled off a feat most parents would envy. They stayed in their auditorium seats and listened, for the most part, while people involved with the national Vision To Learn organization spoke about how the no-cost eye exam and eyeglass program is changing lives. Some of those lives were right there in those two front rows.

That included Dylan Hood, 8, who’s in the third grade. “I’ve gone through like 16 pairs of glasses,” he said.

His friend Isaac Cillie, 9, and also in the third grade, has a similar issue. “Sometimes it’s hard to wear glasses. I lose them every day.”

Vision To Learn supplied both boys with new glasses, along with 140 of their classmates. The nonprofit can be a crucial source of support for families in communities where the costs of eye exams and eyeglasses can keep some kids from getting the vision aid they need. Vision To Learn was started by a former Los Angeles school superintendent. It’s now spreading to cities and schools across the country. 

In South Carolina, the Medical University of South Carolina is a key partner. Wendy Minor, executive director of External Affairs for MUSC and MUSC Health, was at the Eagle Nest event to see that partnership in action. “Kids have a hard time learning if they can’t see. MUSC’s mission is to preserve and optimize human life, and we are grateful that with Vision to Learn we are seeing the impact of our mission in action with South Carolina’s children,” she said.

MUSC made a four-year commitment to Vision To Learn that has included assistance in funding the first rolling clinic, a van that travels to schools to give kids eye exams and glasses. “We’re into year three now, and I would like to continue to fund Vision To Learn even after our initial commitment. We have three entities involved: MUSC, MUSC Health Storm Eye Institute and then MUSC Children’s Health,” Minor said.

Two men in suits lean toward an elementary school student. One of the men helps the boy put on a pair of glasses. 
Congressman Jim Clyburn puts glasses on Nolan Anderson as Vision To Learn founder Austin Beutner looks on.

Mark Scheurer, M.D., chief of the Children's & Women's Integrated Center of Clinical Excellence at MUSC, said it was an easy choice to support Vision To Learn. The program has helped kids in more than 750 communities in 15 states. The organization says on its website that research shows kids who got glasses saw more success in school, and the eyeglasses had a bigger impact than more expensive steps such as extending the school day or giving kids computers. 

“Imagine wanting to see the board or read a book but you can’t due to poor eyesight. The Vision to Learn program opens doors and encourages learning for sight-challenged children full of curiosity and possibilities. We are grateful for their advocacy,” Scheurer said.

Andrew Eiseman, M.D., chairman of the Storm Eye Institute, emphasized the importance of eye care throughout a person’s lifetime, starting in childhood. “At Storm Eye, vision meets innovation, and we never pass up an opportunity to expand our ability to provide care and enhance an individual's quality of life. This is especially true for children since visual rehabilitation at a young age enhances visual development, ability to learn and overall quality of life.”

Vision To Learn’s founder, Austin Buetner, said taking the simple step of helping kids see more clearly has a big impact. And there are a lot of them who need that help. “It turns out about one in four kids naturally need glasses. That's human physiology.”

When children with vision problems don’t get eyeglasses, it can cause serious problems. South Carolina Congressman Jim Clyburn, who was on hand to celebrate the students’ newly improved vision, happens to be a former high school teacher. He witnessed what happened when kids couldn’t see well.

Girl in a purple top with a pink bow in her hair looks in a mirror at her new eyeglasses. 
Amanda Santamaria, director Of Nursing and Health Services at Dorchester School District 2, holds a mirror so Kaelyn Duncan can see her new glasses.

“You could look at your students, and you see them looking at the board, the chalkboard, squinching their eyes, not being able to see what was on that chalkboard. And you knew from your experiences, here is a good student that could be better – if only he or she could see that chalkboard. Here is a not so good student that's going to be even worse because he or she could not see that chalkboard.”

The congressman said he was at the event because he felt strongly that public and private investments can make good vision accessible for all students. “When we think about this country's future, and we think about these children in these classrooms, think about our own children and grandchildren, and think about the future that we want for them and their children, let us not forget that what we do today will impact greatly, if not totally, whether or not there is a good productive future for them.”

Eagle Nest’s principal, Marcy Brown, wants that productive future for her students. “I cannot tell you enough about what the Vision To Learn program has done for my students here, she said. “It has been a game changer for my students and my families.”

Minor, the executive director of External Affairs for MUSC and MUSC Health, agreed. “To stand back and watch those kids walk across the stage so proud of their glasses and seeing clearly for the first time just warms every heart and makes us know we’re helping these children.”

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