Nonprofit helps local students envision a better future

School is hard enough for children from disadvantaged backgrounds, but for disadvantaged students with low vision or eyesight so poor they can’t see the board or read a book, the challenges may be insurmountable. 

Dr. Angela Bernardo is an optometrist working with the non-profit group Vision to Learn. The group provides free eye exams and glasses to kids in underserved areas. Dr. Bernardo says it’s difficult to imagine trying to navigate the world with bad eyesight, especially if your family can’t afford the necessary eye exams.

Nora MacLellan, an Outreach Coordinator for Vision to Learn, has looked at the statistics for local school districts and sees that 81% of the children attending public schools in desert cities qualify for a free or reduced-cost school lunch. In the Palm Springs Unified School District, that number is 95%. That means their family is either at or near the federal poverty level. Many of the providers for the children work in poorly compensated jobs which most likely don’t offer healthcare or vision benefits.

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A UCLA study found that 80% of classroom learning is visual and that children with poor vision are often misdiagnosed with behavioral issues. The study tracked students before and after receiving glasses, and it showed an increase in Math and Reading GPA among the students that participated. There was even evidence their home life improved just because they were able to see the world clearly. 

“One fourth-grade student was in a special needs class,” MacLellan says. “After we checked her vision and gave her glasses, she was transferred to a gifted student class.” She adds, “Most of the kids who aren’t reading by third grade have a higher percentage of not graduating high school.”

Correcting a child’s eyesight can change their life.

Another volunteer, Steve Elefant, remembers helping a local student,  “Luke, a fourth-grader, was borrowing a friend’s glasses because he couldn’t read or see the blackboard. He was cute as can be and so thankful for the opportunity to get his own glasses.” Elefant says in the old days Luke would have needed coke-bottle glasses, but modern corrective lenses are lighter and thinner.

Since the start of this school year, the group has completed 65,000 exams nationwide, 21,000 of those exams in California. The group helps close the gap for these children, helping them achieve goals that they otherwise would be unable to see.

More information: To find out more about Vision to Learn, go to its website at

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