Students from Penn-Kidder and Panther Valley elementary schools recently got the chance to meet their pen pals from Prince Hall in Philadelphia.

The students and their teachers met at the Carbon County Environmental Education Center in Summit Hill, where they learned about wildlife and toured the facility. They then traveled to Mauch Chunk Lake Park and enjoyed a picnic dinner.

Raquel Ramseur-Webb, a chaperone from Prince Hall Elementary School and a SHINE II teacher, said the students love the SHINE II program.

"It's hands-on with science," she said. "They loved the pen pal experience and were excited to meet their pen pals."

Twenty-eight third through fifth grade students from Prince Hall participated in the pen pal program and wrote to 25 third through fifth grade students at Penn Kidder and Panther Valley.

Jill Klotz, a SHINE teacher, said that the students really seemed to enjoy having a pen pal.

"It's neat to hear the differences in the two SHINE programs," she said.

After the introductions were made and the students had time to explore the environmental education center, they were treated to a program on wildlife and habits by naturalist Franklin Klock.

Klock taught them about mammals, birds and reptiles and illustrated the ecosystem and how it works.

This is the second year Prince Hall has participated in the pen pal program between the two SHINE groups.

Last year, they visited their pen pals from Shull-David Elementary School in Lehighton and traveled to Troxell's Produce and Pumpkin Patch, where they got to experience a day in a farmer's life.

The SHINE II program began during the 2007-2008 school year and serves children at Prince Hall Elementary School. It is funded through a grant written by the State System of Higher Education.

The Carbon and Schuylkill SHINE after-school program was started in 2002 and serves children in six public schools and four parochial schools from Carbon and Schuylkill counties.

The SHINE program was created to provide children with academic support, as well as build self-esteem and make stronger family bonds. The program organizes many events throughout the year as a way to teach the students necessary skills in everyday situations, as well as give them the opportunity to build lasting friendships.