PINELLAS PARK — It didn’t take long for 6-year-old Jaquan Kirkland to find the perfect pair of glasses — thick, circular, tortoise-shell frames that made him look more like a distinguished professor than a kindergartner with untied shoelaces.
There was an ample supply of designer frames aboard the Glazer Family Foundation’s Vision Mobile for Jaquan to choose from, at no cost to his parents. But as soon as he put on the Banana Republic glasses, he gave himself a self-assured “yes” in the mirror. No other, smaller frames need be considered.
“I’m excited because it’s fuzzy when I see things up close and with my glasses I’ll see better, even when I’m not sitting in the front,” Jaquan said. “I want to be a policeman or a firefighter, so I need glasses to see the bad guys.”
The Vision Mobile rolled up to Marjorie Kinnan Rawling Elementary School in Pinellas Park for the first time Wednesday morning, providing free screenings, comprehensive vision exams and prescription glasses for all 42 kindergarten, first- and third-grade students who failed the school’s eye exam in December.
With third-graders preparing to take the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test for the first time Monday, ensuring that students have glasses is even more important, Rawlings school nurse Kristen Koller said.
“We try to catch everyone as soon as possible, because if they’re having trouble seeing the board that can lead to frustration and behavior problems,” Koller said. “If they can’t see, they can’t learn. It’s that simple.”
Seven out of 10 youths considered “troubled” have undiagnosed vision problems, and almost 85 percent of children in low-income families have vision problems that go untreated, according to the Glazer Family Foundation. At Rawlings, a majority of students live below the poverty level and don’t have insurance to cover examinations or glasses, Principal Rebecca Moore said.
The Glazer Family Foundation, created by Tampa Bay Buccaneers owner Malcolm Glazer, began its vision program in 2006, and added the Vision Mobile in 2010. Each school year the bus delivers an average of 2,000 pairs of glasses to students at 60 Title I elementary schools across Pinellas and Hillsborough county. Within a few weeks it will give out the 5,000th pair.
Local optometrists from the Essilor Vision Foundation can make a pair of glasses on the van in 10 minutes on average, a value of about $200, said Erica Sherman, Glazer Family Foundation assistant.
The students also get to try on real Buccaneers sports equipment while they wait and take home a stash of football stickers, pencils, beads and, of course, eyeglass cases.
For aspiring Buccaneers cheerleader Jasmine Simmons, 9, getting in practice time with real Buccaneers pom-poms was even better with her red glasses, strategically chosen to match her school uniform.
“Some people may call me four-eyes, but I thought these would look good with my red shirts at school and they’re Bucs colors,” the third-grader said.