Today’s post is written by Jennifer Mothershead and the MS 424X Alcoa team serving in the South Bronx. 

Focus, from what we have observed, is one of the most crucial aspects of receiving an education. Students at MS424x, located in the Hunts Point Community in the South Bronx, are seriously affected by a lack of focus. Classes in can be hectic and hard to manage, as students move around the room, chat with their friends, or express their frustrations by actively disrupting teachers’ lessons. Their frustrations—and the subsequent disruptive actions—are caused by a number of factors; one not to be ignored is a lack of affordable eye care to help address vision problems, also known as refractive errors. Refractive errors–most commonly near-sightedness, far-sightedness, and astigmatism–affect one in four adolescents in the United States. Without eyeglasses, children with refractive error struggle in school and sometimes act up.

Sit in on a class at MS424x and this becomes very apparent – students who have trouble seeing the board have to either move to the front of the class or sit further back and not be able to engage in the lesson. Moving to the front might seem like an obvious solution, but a teacher with a large class in a small classroom may suddenly come to the realization that there are not enough seats up front for all the kids who need to be close to the board. What results are students who can’t see what is being written and can’t follow a lesson—an experience that produces frustration and anxiety in nearly every 11-14 year old who is unlucky enough to have to endure it. This frustration is released in various ways: ignoring the teacher’s lesson, talking with friends, drawing, sleeping, or on a bad day, yelling and flipping desks over. And thus, an unfocused classroom erupts.

In order to address this challenge, 424x has recently partnered with the ChildSight Program of Helen Keller International. The program offers free vision screenings and eyeglasses to “bring education into focus.” It overcomes the two biggest barriers to childhood vision care: prohibitive cost and limited access. ChildSight screens children on-site at the school to determine their vision correction needs and, within a week, delivers new glasses to those who need them – at no cost to the children or their families. Students who participated in this program have greatly improved their ability to perform in the classroom, as lessons have literally come into focus. Classroom are quieter, students are able to follow and understand what the teachers are teaching, and as students’ frustrations levels have decreased, classroom disruptions have followed suit.

Thanks to the support of programs such as Helen Keller International, the students at MS 424x and similar schools all across the country now have less preventable issues keeping them from staying focused on their academic performance. Although this program is doing phenomenal work, there are still many other challenges facing students in under-served communities.

What can you do to tackle and issue like this? How can you personally make an impact in helping to close the achievement gap? Let us know in the comments! We’ll be more than happy to discuss at greater length the barriers that students in under-served communities face, and to help you find the best way to help reconcile some of these challenges. We can’t do this alone. We all need to work together to end education inequality in our country.

Yours in Service,

The MS 424x Alcoa Team

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