Vision for Baltimore Partnership Provides 10,000 Pairs of Eyeglasses for City Students

Johns Hopkins University works with Baltimore City Public Schools and others to advance health and education equity.

Illustration by Alec Gibson

Published in Dome - Dome Nov./Dec. 2022

Originally published in the Hub.

On Nov. 1, Vision for Baltimore celebrated distributing its 10,000th pair of eyeglasses to Baltimore City Public Schools students during a ceremony at Fort Worthington Elementary/Middle School in East Baltimore.

Nearly 20 students received stylish new eyewear during the milestone event.

“I will be able to tell people, and say it proudly, that I’m the 10,000th person to get glasses,” said seventh-grader Romeo Merritt. “I was excited to get glasses because I’ve been frustrated since I couldn’t really see some of the [math] problems written on the board. I had to move closer to look at the board and try to answer the problems.”

Vision for Baltimore is a partnership among the Center for Research and Reform in Education at the Johns Hopkins University (JHU) School of Education, the Wilmer Eye Institute at Johns Hopkins Medicine, Baltimore City Public Schools, the Baltimore City Health Department, vision care provider Warby Parker and national nonprofit organization Vision to Learn.

The Baltimore City Health Department conducts screenings, Vision to Learn performs eye exams and Warby Parker distributes eyeglasses as part of its Pupils Project program.

In addition to providing more than $2 million in support over the past seven years, Johns Hopkins works closely with the Vision for Baltimore partners to support program implementation, conduct research measuring the impact on learning and build pathways for sustainability.

“Vision for Baltimore exemplifies what is possible in Baltimore when multiple stakeholders pull together to solve seemingly intractable problems,” says Ron Daniels, JHU president. “Helping our public school students to see in the classroom is a focused intervention with a wide-ranging impact that allows our city’s children to achieve their highest aspirations as students and citizens.”

Pediatric ophthalmologist Megan Collins, Allan and Claire Jensen Professor of Ophthalmology at Johns Hopkins, says research from Johns Hopkins not only documents the effectiveness of Vision for Baltimore but also shows how it can be a national model to advance health and education equity.

Collins led the largest clinical study of the impact of eyeglasses on education ever conducted in the United States, in collaboration with Amanda Neitzel, deputy director of the Johns Hopkins Consortium for School-Based Health Solutions. The study found that students who received eyeglasses through Vision for Baltimore scored higher on reading and math tests, and students who struggled the most academically before receiving eyeglasses showed the greatest improvement. The findings, Collins says, have implications for the millions of children across the country who have vision impairment but lack access to pediatric eye care.

A young girl receives a pair of red sunglasses.

The Power of Partnership

During the ceremony in East Baltimore, Daniels joined Sonja Santelises, CEO of Baltimore City Public Schools; Brandon Scott, mayor of Baltimore; Mark Martin, director of the Office of Minority Health and Health Disparities, Maryland Department of Health; Ann Hollister, president of Vision to Learn and Hannah Reeve Kowalski, senior manager of social innovation, Warby Parker, to discuss the importance of the initiative.

In addition to providing thousands of students with eyeglasses since launching in 2016, Vision for Baltimore and its partners have conducted more than 75,000 vision screenings and 12,000 eye exams.

As the program enters its seventh year, it also celebrates a new $1 million grant from the Maryland Department of Health. The additional funds, administered by the Baltimore City Health Department and Vision to Learn, will support thousands more screenings and eye exams for students. The program will expand operations so that it can serve all Baltimore City elementary and middle schools.

“We are grateful for our Vision for Baltimore partners for providing our students not only improved eyesight but everything that gesture opens up for them, including improved academic achievement,” says Santelises. “City Schools looks forward to the next 10,000 pairs and expanding the program so even more of our young people can reap the academic and health benefits of good vision.”

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A Boon for Baltimore’s Vision

In three years, the Wilmer team has screened more than 3,000 people for eye disease, says team manager Prateek Gajwani. “We go anywhere in the city that people need us,” he says. “It doesn’t have to be on the east side or near the Hopkins campus.”

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