City announces free eyeglasses for community school students

Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Wednesday that the city will offer free vision screenings and pairs of glasses to every student in need at all 130 community schools.

The city will spend $10 million over the next four years for the screenings, and the trendy eyewear company Warby Parker will supply glasses to every student who needs a pair, estimated at around 20,000 across the schools. The press conference at P.S. 50 in East Harlem was the latest in a series of splashy announcements about enhancements to the city’s “community schools” initiative.

That initiative aims to bring social and health services into schools to relieve some of the pressures faced by students, particularly ones from poor families.

“All the kids who get these exams are going to get the result they deserve, which is the glasses they need,” de Blasio said. “It’s one more challenge that a hardworking parent doesn’t have to add to the endless list of needs.”

The mayor mentioned eyesight as one part of the initiative’s approach to include physical and mental health as part of a child’s education.

“That’s why our community schools concept is so powerful,” de Blasio said. “Because rather than being narrow and saying we’re just going to teach kids what’s in these books, for example, we’re going to think about what will allow this whole child to move forward.”

P.S. 50 is among 94 schools that are both community schools and in the Renewal program, a designation for low-performing schools that brings extra support and services. The Renewal plan combines bringing services to students with changes to classroom instruction, though the city has focused its announcements this year on the new services. (Read Chalkbeat’s three-part series about the first year of Renewal at one Brooklyn high school.)

Chancellor Carmen Fariña was also on hand to discuss the potential impact of the new partnership and introduced the vision initiative, alongside de Blasio, in Spanish.

When asked about the city’s decision to increase the budget for community and Renewal schools, de Blasio said it was all part of addressing the additional needs of these schools.

“I think I’ve made very clear that on something we consider to be transformative, like community schools and like renewal schools,” de Blasio said. “We’re going to keep making investments as we see fit – as we see a need.”

In the meantime, city students will have access to wide-framed glasses made by the same manufacturers with the same materials as the company’s other frames. Neil Blumenthal, co-founder of Warby Parker, said the company’s goal is to design frames that “students really want to wear” in an effort to positively impact students’ classroom experience.

“Glasses are a core part of one’s identity, so those glasses have to properly fit somebody’s sense of style and being,” Blumenthal said. “And likewise, enable them to learn.”