New Vision Center is a terrific example of the kind of thinking our School District Needs!

By Ashley Bean Thornton

My husband and I both wear glasses.  I got mine in the first grade.  My grandmother (a long-time second grade teacher) was the first to notice that I was “cross-eyed.”  My mother didn’t take it seriously at first, but my grandmom insisted she get my eyes checked.  Sure enough, I had a Lazy Eye (amblyopia) and soon I was wearing glasses and a patch.  Not great for my popularity – but crucial for my academics.  My husband, Craig, got his glasses in second or third grade thanks to a teacher who noticed both his squint and that his grades were dropping. 

It’s been fifty-plus years since I put on my first pair of glasses and I still remember vividly the wonder of being able to really SEE for the first time.  I remember putting them on and taking them off over and over – blurry, clear, blurry, clear, blurry, clear. I remember being amazed that trees really did have leaves – individual leaves — that I could see.    The whole world changed for me with those glasses.

When I saw the news on January 24 about the ribbon cutting for Transformation Waco’s Bernard and Audre Rapoport Vision Center, I was surprised to feel tears filling my eyes.   Why was I so emotional?   

Sporting our specs, Craig and I both flew successfully through our respective public-school systems with few hitches, then on to college, marriage, careers, a pleasant lifestyle, and now, Lord willing, we have our sights set on a hopefully comfortable retirement in a few years.  Would it be overly dramatic to claim that our glasses were the keys that opened the door to that successful life?  I don’t think so.  What if we hadn’t gotten our glasses when we did? What if I had been in fifth or sixth grade instead of first grade when I got mine?  Would school have been more difficult for me?  Would I have missed out on becoming a confident reader?  Would I have missed the foundation in math I needed to succeed in high school and college?  Would I have become a behavior problem because I couldn’t follow what was happening in class?  What about Craig?  His grades were already dropping. If he hadn’t gotten his glasses when he did, would his grades have continued to fall?  Would his teachers have developed lower expectations for him?  Would he have been slotted into classes for less able students?  Would our whole lives have taken a different turn? 

Research on vision and learning shows that about 80% of classroom learning in public school is visual in some way.  Surely that does not surprise anyone.  About 20% of kids have some kind of vision problem.   Corrective lenses can correct most of those problems.  Low income kids are the ones least likely to get the corrective lenses they need.  Again, surely that is no surprise to anyone.  According to the Texas Tribune “Public Schools Explorer” 87% of students in Waco ISD are considered “Economically Disadvantaged,” 95% for the five Transformation Waco schools. That’s compared to 59% statewide.

It’s a cliché to say that education is the “great equalizer” in our country.  But, is it possible to get “equalized” at school if you can’t see the instructions written on the whiteboard?   If the words on the worksheets are fuzzy blobs?

I imagine most people in Waco have concerns about our school system.  I know I do.  With so many wonderful things happening in Waco, I yearn for Waco ISD to take its place on the ever-growing list of wonderful reasons for people to choose Waco as their home.   What will it take to make that happen? 

Certainly, it will require all the things that make any school successful – excellent instruction from caring, patient, well-prepared teachers; dedicated support staff, buildings; equipment; technology; parental and community engagement.  For us it will also take an extra helping of sensitivity and creativity.  We must be sensitive to the fact that many of our students don’t have ready access to things that students in more financially well-off districts can take for granted.  Things like transportation; nutritious food; a consistent, quiet place to do homework; health insurance — and glasses.  We must figure out creative ways to help our students get these basic supports or overcome the lack of them.  The Bernard and Audre Rapoport Vision Center is a terrific example of this kind of creativity.  It’s both a homerun for the students who get the glasses they need and a terrific benefit for the high school students who are learning to make the glasses.  Bravo, Transformation Waco and Waco ISD!  This is exactly the kind of thinking we need! What’s next?

This Act Locally Waco blog post is by Ashley Bean Thornton, she has lived in Waco almost 20 years now. Far longer than she ever lived anywhere else. She is retired from Baylor works part time helping to organize after school programs for Transformation Waco. She likes to walk. If you see her out walking, honk and wave and say, “Hi!”

The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email [email protected] for more information.

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