The Lehigh Carbon Community College SHINE After-School Program will be around for another three years.

During a special press conference at Lehigh Carbon Community College's Nesquehoning campus, state and school officials made the announcement that the SHINE program was the recipient of the 21st Century After-School Community Learning Centers grant. The grant is awarded by the Pennsylvania Department of Education.

To cover the overall costs, which include the price of transportation, meals, and certified teachers, at the six centers in Carbon and Schuylkill counties currently being served by the program, it takes $500,000 annually.

The event began with Panther Valley students, who are involved in the SHINE program. The group led the Pledge of Allegiance and then sang an inspirational song about learning and being the best they can be.

Bill Santore, a member of the LCCC board of trustees, then welcomed everyone and introduced Don Snyder, the college's president.

Snyder recognized the efforts of the staff and individuals involved in the SHINE program.

"LCCC has benefitted in many ways," Snyder said. "The staff has devoted their love to these children."

He added that the SHINE program is one of the most outstanding programs in the state and the nation because it builds a relationship between the school and families.

"Some parents have been inspired by this program," Snyder continued, noting that after seeing their child progress in school through SHINE, some parents decided to go back to school and enrolled at LCCC.

Jeanne Miller, the "spark and firecracker" that made the SHINE program a reality, then introduced guest speakers, Speaker of the House Keith McCall, state Sen. David Argall, and Jim Thorpe superintendent Barbara Conway.

McCall spoke of the students' overall performance in the program and how this program has touched so many lives.

He also recognized Miller for her dedication to the area's youth.

Conway spoke about the numbers of the program.

Jim Thorpe Area School District was one of the first schools involved in the SHINE program when it began in 2004, and Conway said she has had the pleasure to watch the students blossom and grow.

"SHINE has shown us the results," she said. "The numbers are up in homework completion, attendance, behavior, and academic performance."

Conway continued that during the 2008-09 school year, 93 percent of the students involved in SHINE increased in reading; and 96 percent of students increased in mathematics. These figures are up from two years ago when figures showed 79 percent increased in reading and 91 percent in math.

She provided a number of other figures that illustrated the success of the program.

Argall commended the staff for its efforts to secure this grant.

"You are very effective advocates," he said, noting that the hard data that Conway read was what helped the SHINE program receive the grant. "You have proven this program works. Congratulations and keep it up."

Following the guest speakers, fourth-grade student Chad Price, who has benefitted through his participation in the program, read a letter about his time in SHINE.

"SHINE has helped me with my grades," he read, adding that he was excited the program is expanding into fifth grade.

"I will now get the help I need to be a great student in the middle school."

Miller then addressed the volunteers, staff and parents in attendance.

"Six year ago we came here to celebrate the birth of SHINE," she said. "Now we're here to celebrate it again. It's a wonderful feeling because I had the blessing to be involved in this from the beginning."

She explained that since 2004, SHINE has served over 800 children and will be expanding over the next three years.

Expansion plans include opening the program up to children and families going into kindergarten and now including fifth grade. There will also be more home visits for younger students, and the start of a career program for older students.

Fifty high school students will also now have the opportunity to become tutors through the SHINE program. This can be used as their senior project.

An intern program for college students is also in the works.

Miller recognized a number of tutors that were present, her colleagues Leona Rega and Marie Becker; as well as Mary Rhoades, the wife of the late Sen. James Rhoades, who had been an advocate for the SHINE program since the idea to start the program began.

She also announced that SHINE now has a website and urged everyone to spread the word. To visit the site, go to www.shineafterschool.com. It provides information about the program, the statistics, and upcoming events.

Miller added that the program prides itself for keeping a one teacher to seven student ratio.

"We are doing something unique," she said adding that the small ratio of students to teachers; as well as utilizing certified educators and doing home visits has helped students and families.

"This program really works."

The SHINE After-School program is an initiative through LCCC that helps elementary school students in Lehighton, Jim Thorpe, Panther Valley, Mahanoy City, and Shenandoah in their studies; as well as helps them build socialization skills and a stronger relationship in the family.