The SHINE after-school program needs a champion.

That was the message Jeanne Miller, director of the Carbon and Schuylkill SHINE 21st Century after-school program; Carbon County Commissioner Wayne Nothstein; Panther Valley Superintendent Rosemary Porembo and Panther Valley Elementary Principal Bill Lombardo sent to United States Congressman Lou Barletta earlier this week.

Barletta visited the Panther Valley campus on Tuesday afternoon to learn about the program, and see the results it is having on students. The SHINE program currently serves students in Lehighton, Jim Thorpe, Panther Valley, Mahanoy City and Shenandoah elementary schools.

During the brief meeting, Miller, Porembo, Nothstein, and Lombardo presented Barletta with facts, reports, and results of SHINE and urged him to support funding for educational programs like this.

Miller explained that the programs Carbon County offers serves the children from birth through college. She provided a model that illustrated her point. It showed that the programs leading up to the SHINE program, such as home visits, help create the building blocks for students. The SHINE program then helps children build their reading and math skills, while making learning fun. The program is also utilized by high school seniors and college students who intern and volunteer to help teach the kids. This in turn provides them with a stronger background and makes them a better candidate for a teaching job.

Miller said that this model is helping the future of the area because it is building relationships and helping children and families realize their potential.

Miller also talked about the expansion of the SHINE program into the middle school, with the middle school career club. This allows students to continue to learn through an after-school program, and integrates high priority jobs into fun activities. To date, the club has built hover crafts, wind mills, and visited numerous businesses that are in high demand today.

Nothstein backed Miller's report by giving Barletta a study that showed that from 2001 through 2009, the number of cases in home placements in the county has gone down as a result of these preventive programs. This helped the county spend less money on programs that are designed to help children after the fact.

"From the county side of it, these programs (like SHINE) are worth it," Nothstein said.

Porembo and Lombardo also spoke of the positive results Panther Valley has seen since the SHINE program was implemented in the school.

Lombardo showed that PSSA results in math and reading have gone up and that is due to this after-school program.

Porembo credits the program because it gives the students an after-school activity that they normally don't have in this area.

She explained that the teachers also get to know the students better and focus on their needs.

"This program helps look at the proactive ways to help these students," Porembo said.

The team then talked about the funding that is so important in the operation of SHINE, which is funded by the 21st Century After-school Community Learning Centers grant.

Miller explained that funding cuts hurt proactive programs like SHINE.

"We're looking for a champion," she said, adding that former Speaker of the House Keith McCall, as well as the late Judge David Addy and the late state Sen. Jim Rhoades were amazing advocates for helping the children. "We need your help."

Barletta said he was impressed by the program and by the results the county has seen. He noted that Congress is looking for an educational model that works.

"As I'm working on the education committee in Washington, we're looking around the country for programs that are working and I am very, very impressed with what I saw here today," Barletta said. "I can't wait to take this back to Washington with me and talk to the committee about it. These kinds of after-school programs are critical to the future development of so many of these students.

"The enthusiasm was very obvious, not only from instructors but the students as well," he added after visiting two of the SHINE classrooms. "They are making learning exciting."

He also addressed the financial issues America is experiencing and said he will do everything he can to help.

"We're trying to look at ways to put Americans back to work," he said. "Part of that puzzle is education and we're trying to find better ways to educate our students. On the national level, we doubled our education budget in the last two years but yet scores in reading, math and science have not improved. We're throwing money at programs that are not working. Programs like this are something that we can get behind."

The SHINE after-school program began in 2002 through the Partners for Progress Carbon County Child and Family Collaborative Board and is supported by Lehigh Carbon Community College. It's mission is to link schools and homes in education to build a strong social and academic foundation; as well as increase academic success, improve social skills, and facilitate family involvement in student learning.

Since the program's implementation, SHINE has served over 800 children, from birth through college age.

For more information on the SHINE program, visit http://www.shineafterschool.com.