Two years ago, Nicole Boggs found herself struggling in her third grade classes at Panther Valley Elementary.

Homework and assignments were difficult for the young Lansford girl, and learning wasn't fun.

"I just didn't get it," the 11-year-old said of her lessons.

But, through the Carbon and Schuylkill SHINE Afterschool Program, which provides SHINE students with 32 weeks of afterschool activities during the school year; as well as nine weeks of summer home visits, Boggs now proudly says she enjoys school.

"Through SHINE, the teachers show me and help me understand what I am learning," she said. "I get it now. I get things right because they are helping me."

Her mother, Elaine Boggs, couldn't agree more with her daughter's take on the program.

"Two years ago she was super shy and she was starting to slip," Elaine said. "Now she has come out of her shyness and the program has helped her grades go back up. The program really works because it made learning fun. She now looks at education a whole new way."

Elaine added that Nicole isn't her only child in SHINE. She also has a child in the Kindergarten SHINE program; as well as one in the Right From The Start program and early Head Start.

Both Nicole and Elaine, who met with the TIMES NEWS during a summer home visit, said that the one-on-one sessions with SHINE teacher Terry Bonner have helped Nicole make leaps and bounds in retaining information she learned during the school year, while preparing her for her fifth-grade classes.

Nicole's family was one of 150 SHINE families who received home visits from SHINE teachers this summer.

Each family was paired with a SHINE teacher, like Bonner. That teacher worked with the student to address learning weaknesses, as well as to meet math and reading goals that were identified in the child's SHINE instructional plan.

In the case of Nicole, Bonner, who is a 10th-grade world history teacher at Panther Valley High School and a SHINE teacher at L.B. Morris Elementary, prepared her for fifth-grade coursework by using interactive books and games.

"Every visit, I try to hit a different area (on Nicole's SHINE instructional plan)," Bonner said, noting that lessons included science, reading comprehension and multiplication. "The instructional plans are invaluable because it helps us plan for what needs to be focused on."

On the day of the interview, Bonner was working on reading comprehension and addition, subtraction and multiplication.

The objectives of the reading lesson were to help Nicole understand the meaning of the story; identify the story's setting, main characters, and the conflict; write a letter using the skills learned in the book; and recognize problem solutions. Bonner used the interactive book "Luv Amelia, Luv Nadia" for this lesson.

For the math exercises, Bonner chose to focus on multiplication tables from one to nine; as well as create and solve two and three digit addition and subtraction problems using the games Space Chase and Iguana Factor.

"It's amazing how much you can lose over the course of the summer," Bonner said. "The home visits help the students retain the information they learned from the last school year, and prepare them to stay on track academically. The one-on-one sessions also really help strengthen the child's weak areas."

He noted that the experience of being a SHINE teacher has also helped him grow as a high school teacher.

"This has been great for me," Bonner said. "It's the most rewarding thing because you get to connect with the student and their family and help the community build for the future by working with the kids and pointing them in the right direction. It has definitely made me a better teacher all around."

Jeanne Miller, director of Lehigh Carbon Community College's Carbon and Schuylkill counties educational services and SHINE, agreed with Bonner's assessment of the program.

She said that the key to the success of the SHINE program is the summer home visits, because it bridges the gap between school years and keeps the children focused on education and the future.

"The summer home visiting program is a non-traditional approach to educating children," Miller explained.

"Consistently, when we survey parents, principals and superintendents, they indicate the summer home visiting program is the most powerful strategy of the SHINE program. First through fifth grade students and their families receive summer home visits weekly," Miller said.

"Although teachers meet with students weekly instead of the usual four days, parents and teachers alike feel the benefits are even greater with the one-on-one instruction.

"Summer home visits build trust between the teacher and families, a bridge between home and school, and can increase educational attainment for two generations," Miller added.

"They can also include: parents updating Family Educational Plans, enrolling new students, and connecting parent to community resources. The staff is firmly convinced that SHINE home visits increase student retention in the program and serve as an effective recruitment tool for the summer camps.

"We believe home visits are also the reason for a 90 percent parent involvement rate, 56 percent of parents enrolling in educational programs (GED, college programs, workforce training) and increased academic success," Miller said.

In addition to summer home visits, Miller and her staff have also organized a summer Healthy Body/Healthy Minds SHINE Camp to help students learn through activity-based lessons. The camp was made possible through various state and local funding sources.

This past summer, 129 kindergarten through sixth grade students gathered at LCCC's Morgan Campus in Tamaqua for a weeklong camp that focused on logistics, alternative energy, global awareness, cultural diversity and the arts; along with nutrition and physical fitness, and the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) curriculum.

"Summer camps provide a unique environment for all six centers from five school districts," said Miller. "It provides an opportunity for children to see that they are a part of something larger than their own centers. All our children have academic difficulties and providing them with a unique and positive learning opportunity with their SHINE peers has been an incredibly rich and motivating experience.

The SHINE summer camps provide students with a breakfast and a full lunch each day; as well as a place to enjoy educational lessons, build friendships outside of their home school districts and prepare for the upcoming school year. In addition to the activities, the students also learned over 100 vocabulary words, which were incorporated into their summer home visits.

Editor's note: Look for Part 5 of "The Faces of SHINE" next week, which will cover the SHINE high school mentors and college interns. These young men and women provide students with homework help and guidance, all while learning about a career in teaching.