It's a hard knock life for some kids, but for the Carbon and Schuylkill County SHINE after-school program students, life is getting a little bit brighter.

During the 11th Annual Lights On After-School Program, held at Panther Valley High School last week, more than 200 elementary school children from six area school districts, showed their parents, lawmakers and the community how the SHINE after-school program has helped them socially and educationally.

The program began as the children from Panther Valley, Shenandoah, L.B Morris, Penn-Kidder, Lehighton, and Mahanoy Area performed the song "It's a Hard Knock Life" from the musical "Annie." Penn-Kidder students dressed the part of orphans and acted, while the remainder of the students sang the song. Each school also performed a special activity during the program, such as traditional African drum performances, action mats, a song medley, and a physical education boot camp.

Rosemary Porembo, superintendent of the Panther Valley School District, welcomed everyone to the event and talked about the success the SHINE students have had since the program's inception.

"Eighty-six percent of the students who needed improvement in homework did so," she said. "Eighty-three percent who needed help in academic behavior improved; 99 percent of the children in the SHINE program were promoted to the next grade and 100 percent of the parents of children in the program were satisfied with the program."

She added that funding is needed to make after-school programs possible and urged parents to talk to state representatives about SHINE and about the benefits of the program.

"Our greatest resource is our children. They are the future," Porembo said.

Following Porembo's welcome, Jeanne Miller, director of the Lehigh Carbon Community College SHINE after-school program, asked Speaker of the House Keith McCall to come to the stage. She thanked him for his support during his time in office and wished him well during his retirement, which will begin as he ends his term later this year. She then presented McCall with SHINE T-shirts for his whole family.

"Wear them proudly," Miller said.

McCall thanked Miller and the students for being an amazing group.

"I remember the advent of this program when it was just on a piece of paper and now to see how it grew, I am completely impressed," he said, adding that he hopes whoever takes his seat in the House of Representatives either Justin Yaich or Doyle Heffley, who were both present at the event will continue to support the program.

Miller then introduced Cassie Binder, a seventh-grade student at Lehighton Area Middle School.

Cassie, Miller explained, was a SHINE student in elementary school.

Binder addressed the audience, sharing her success story through the program.

She talked about how school and homework were challenges before SHINE helped her over the four years she was in the program.

Binder also announced that she would like to become a mentor for the program once she reaches high school.

Donald Snyder, president of Lehigh Carbon Community College, then thanked everyone for their support.

"After-school programs are important in many ways," he said. "We have living evidence sitting here showing that this program works."

Snyder noted that benefits from the program include building relationships between students and teachers; as well as making stronger family ties.

"We have many parents going back to school because they are inspired by their children in the program. Congratulations to the parents, schools, students, and community leaders."

Champ Holman, administrative assistant to state Sen. David Argall, presented Miller with a senate resolution honoring the program.

Holman said he has always been impressed by the commitment everyone has for the program and talked about his former boss, the late Sen. James Rhoades, who was a strong supporter of SHINE.

Following the speakers, Leona Rega, assistant director of the SHINE after-school program, presented gifts to the school directors who have embraced SHINE.

Casey Stephens, a former SHINE intern and current SHINE assistant teacher, then addressed the students and parents.

She talked about her time as a mentor in the program and how it impacted her college experience.

"The SHINE program gave me a lot of opportunities," Stevens said, adding that she is now a teacher in the Lehighton Area School District.

As the program ended, Miller thanked everyone for coming and showing their support of the children.

"Research shows the more involved you are in your child's schooling, the better they do," she said.

She recognized the kindergarten home visit program, which helps prepare families who will be entering first grade; the SHINE teachers and home visitors; the college interns; high school mentors; parents; and students.

"I urge everyone to be an advocate for this program" Miller said. "You know how important programs that engage students are. We need everyone to be a champion for after-school programs. Everyone can make an impact. Please help keep the lights on for after-school programs in Carbon and Schuylkill counties."

She ended the program by inviting everyone to light refreshments and asked that they sign a petition to keep the programs alive.