Kids don’t like the look of prison-made glasses

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Ugly. Dorky. Nerdy. That’s how some kids describe their glasses—and the way they look when they wear them, which they often don’t.

“They just make me look crazy ’cause they’re big,” says one 6th-grade girl at Gladstone Elementary on the Near West Side. “I need to wear them all the time, but I only wear them for reading because I don’t want to be seen in public with them.”

“They’re like goggles,” says a 3rd-grade girl, fishing a thick-lensed pair out of her pocket, sans case.

Other students say their frames leave marks on their skin.

Most of Gladstone’s students are low income—like CPS as a whole—and qualify for free eye exams and glasses—through either Medicaid’s KidCare program or a private program, like Sight for Students, that has partnered with CPS.

While optical stores offer dozens of styles, children on Medicaid are limited to just 15, all made by state prisoners.

The students who spoke with Catalyst said they gladly would wear contact lenses. But neither Medicaid nor Sight for Students offers them. CPS has pushed its health partners to provide them, but the partners have resisted because contacts are easier to lose. Patrick McNeil, spokesperson for Vision Service Plan, the insurance company that runs Sight for Students, notes that students can receive only one pair of glasses a year from the program.

With cooler frames and contact lenses not yet on the horizon, Geoffrey Goodfellow, chief of pediatrics at the Illinois College of Optometry, offers these suggestions for getting kids to wear their glasses:

Allow children to pick out their own frames so they feel ownership over them.

Let students know that mild vision problems should not make them feel inadequate.

Explain the exact reasons for the glasses.

Encourage kids to keep their glasses in hard carrying cases and avoid placing them lens-down on surfaces. Stress that they should use both hands to put them on, to reduce wear on the frames.