Vision To Learn Program

“Every child should have the ability to see in order to learn,” said Sheri McMichael, Executive Director of Variety – the Children’s Charity of Iowa. “Collaboration makes us better and it is our hope that by bringing together the resources of United Way and Variety, we will bring quality vision care to thousands of students who would not otherwise have an opportunity to receive an eye exam and glasses.


United Way of Central Iowa and Variety – the Children’s Charity of Iowa (Variety) have formed an unprecedented partnership to provide quality vision care to students in Central Iowa called "Vision To Learn." The program was founded with a goal—to give every child a chance to succeed in school and in life by bringing glasses directly to kids at schools or community organizations. Mobile clinics, staffed with trained eye care professionals, bring needed services directly to the greater Des Moines community. 


About one in five kids will need glasses to see the board, read a book, or participate in class. Unfortunately, in low-income communities across the United States, 95% of kids who need glasses, about 2 million children, do not have them, according to researchers at UCLA. 


The Vision To Learn program’s impact has been documented in a groundbreaking study by researchers at UCLA’s Mattel Children’s Hospital, first made public in 2014. That study was published in a peer-reviewed academic journal, the Maternal and Child Health Journal, on December 9, 2015. Researchers analyzed students’ math and reading scores in the years before and after receiving glasses from Vision To Learn. The results were uniformly positive: 

  • Grades improved for kids who receive glasses, students were more confident and engaged more in the classroom; and the classroom environment improved for all students as teachers were not distracted by those kids who were struggling to see.
  • While math grades had been trending down, all students’ grades started to improve after receiving glasses. 
  • Boys’ math grades were particularly impacted, improving by eight percentage points. 
  • Researchers found grades improved for all students who received glasses. 


According to UCLA’s interviews with teachers, parents, and students, Vision To Learn “removed financial and logistical barriers to students receiving corrective lenses.” The study also confirmed that students were able to pay attention in class, were more engaged, and were more willing to complete their schoolwork, contributing to better overall school performance. 


In May 2017, United Way of Central Iowa launched the Vision To Learn program and with the support from many partners including Vision To Learn in Iowa, has provided more than 20,000 eye screenings at central Iowa elementary schools, and glasses to more than 2,000 students. Ongoing funding from Variety - the Children's Charity and our donor partners will allow United Way to continue to expand these efforts to serve schools where more than half of the students are on free and reduced-price lunch.