During Beth Shermoen's first year as principal at Piedmont Elementary, she noticed only a small number of students wore glasses.

So the next year she made it a priority to screen underperforming students for vision and hearing problems and found that 55% of about 30 students needed glasses. That was four years ago.

This year, each Piedmont Elementary student in need of glasses or an updated prescription will get a free pair thanks to a gift from America's Best Contact and Eyeglasses in Duluth.

America's Best Contacts and Eyeglasses assistant manager Mike Freeman checks first grader Di'Mariyae Nichols' vision at Piedmont Elementary School Tuesday morning. Heidi Owens, Nichols' teacher, said she's noticed Nichols has been struggling to see the board in class. (Tyler Schank / tschank@duluthnews.com)
America's Best Contacts and Eyeglasses assistant manager Mike Freeman checks first grader Di'Mariyae Nichols' vision at Piedmont Elementary School Tuesday morning. Heidi Owens, Nichols' teacher, said she's noticed Nichols has been struggling to see the board in class. (Tyler Schank / tschank@duluthnews.com)

Tuesday was the first of three days in which every student at the school will go through a free vision screening to determine if they need to go in for a full exam and potentially get a prescription.

For Shermoen, it's a rare gift she wasn't expecting when she called the company asking about any services they might offer schools. She was only trying to get help get screenings for about 40 students the school was working with regarding academic interventions.

"The philosophy at Piedmont is that we meet the basic needs of our kids first so they can be academically successful and have a great opportunity for growth and success," Shermoen said.

But due to a nationwide shortage in school nurses that includes the Duluth school district, the school was having a tough time making sure students' hearing and vision needs were fulfilled.

Then Shermoen got a call back from America's Best Contact and Eyeglasses saying the company wanted to provide free services to all 430 students, which she was by no means expecting.

Second grader Skyler Harvey covers his right eye during an eye exam at Piedmont Elementary School Tuesday. (Tyler Schank / tschank@duluthnews.com)
Second grader Skyler Harvey covers his right eye during an eye exam at Piedmont Elementary School Tuesday. (Tyler Schank / tschank@duluthnews.com)

"Not only is it helping us meet the criteria to move kids to the next level in their intervention process, it's meeting the basic needs for our kids," Shermoen said. "It's pretty exciting."

About 63% of the school's population utilized free and reduced-price lunch in the 2018-19 school year. That was the fourth-highest percentage among elementary schools in the district. Myers-Wilkins, Laura MacArthur and Stowe elementary schools have the highest percentages.

Tuesday morning about 100 students in first and second grade went through the eye screening. While Shermoen didn't know the exact number of students who will be going in for an eye exam, she said the number was "high." The rest of the students will go through vision screening Wednesday and Thursday.

The school will help arrange transportation for families of students who need additional support in commuting to the eye care center for exams.

The school's nurse, Camille Murphy, had helped develop a partnership between the school and the eye care center over the years. Shermoen said it's an example of how community partnerships can make a meaningful difference in a school.

"There's a greater need to have community partners in our schools and we really appreciate that," Shermoen said. "It takes a burden off the work we do as educators when we can help set our students up for success. I just want people to know how much educators appreciate that."