Nicole Fischer and Amanda Yusella are at different phases of their lives.

Fischer is aspiring to become a teacher and is currently a freshman at Lehigh Carbon Community College.

Yusella has already earned her teaching degree from Kutztown University and is a teacher at East Penn Elementary in Lehighton.

One program, though, has helped both young women prepare in their journey toward becoming an educator: the 21st Century Carbon and Schuylkill SHINE Afterschool Program.

Fischer and Yusella agree that the SHINE program has exposed them to the world of teaching and has taught them that their passion is helping children succeed, both educationally and socially.

"SHINE has helped me realize that this is what I want to do," said Fischer. "It exposed me and allowed me to see if I wanted to pursue teaching as a career."

"I really love the program and everyone involved the kids and what the program stands for," Yusella added. "The SHINE program prepared me for college because it submerged me into the classroom and I feel it made me a better teacher."

Jeanne Miller, director of Lehigh Carbon Community College's Carbon and Schuylkill counties educational services and SHINE, explained that the major element that helps make the SHINE program a success, is not only the students involved, but also the dedicated, well-trained staff that participates in the program.

Currently, there are 25 high school mentors, 20 LCCC education interns, 13 SHINE teachers, seven home visitors, and three administrative staff who oversee the program's operation at the six centers.

"A well-trained staff is essential for an effective afterschool and summer academic enrichment program," Miller said. "Positive staff/student relationships, the ability to foster parent involvement, effective utilization of evaluation and management skills are important components of the program."

She added that SHINE creates more effective teachers and trains future teachers through non-traditional teacher pre-service laboratories for LCCC education majors and 40 hours of professional development for SHINE regular classroom teachers. As a result, teachers are becoming better equipped and are gaining the understanding that educating children goes beyond the classroom walls.

High school

mentors

The ninth through 11th grade high school mentor program is a service learning project, where students who are interested in learning about the fields of education, criminal justice, psychology and sociology can become mentors for their senior graduation projects.

Miller explained that the students must provide 30 days or 60 hours of support time at one of the SHINE centers to receive a certificate of completion, and an invitation to visit a LCCC college class.

Once they reach senior year, students who plan to enroll in community college in the field of education can be trained as education interns and will continue as paid interns for their freshman and sophomore years at LCCC.

Fischer participated as a high school mentor during her junior and senior years at Jim Thorpe Area High School. At the time, she worked with teachers and interns at Penn-Kidder and L.B. Morris elementary schools and helped students with their homework; as well as taught them through various activities.

Fischer also completed her graduation project by organizing and hosting a family game night for SHINE students and their parents.

LCCC education interns

After graduation in 2011, Fischer, who now is working toward her early education degree, learned that she would be one of the few selected for the LCCC Education Intern program.

The intern program continues where the high school mentor program leaves off.

Interns work with SHINE teachers to create project-based activities and positive action lessons that promote positive thinking and develops skills in the areas of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).

On a recent trip to Penn-Kidder Elementary in Jim Thorpe, where Fischer interns, she listened to the students read, helped them when they were stuck on homework, and led them in science experiments during a family dinner night.

"We like to expose the student interns to creative teaching strategies," Miller said, noting that this helps continue the seamless network of educational programs because the student now becomes the teacher. "The interns get to see how kids are engaged and motivated through STEM projects."

Miller added that the best part of the intern program is that education majors get "real world" classroom experience during the first years of their college career.

At the end of the year, interns take an impact survey on how the SHINE program has helped them in their college courses and career paths.

According to the most recent survey results, 100 percent of the interns surveyed strongly agreed that the SHINE Afterschool Program has increased their knowledge on various strategies for classroom management and showed the importance of engaging families in the educational process.

One hundred percent also strongly agreed that they feel better prepared to be a teacher because of their experience as a SHINE intern.

The interns were also allowed to comment on how the experience has impacted them as a future teacher.

"SHINE has without a doubt made me a better person and teacher," one intern said. "I am more patient, I listen to what the children need, and feel more prepared to teach my own classroom. It also has made me more comfortable in communicating and building a better relationship with families."

"SHINE really has given me a glimpse into the future," another intern commented. "It's rare that you get that opportunity in a job and I sure am glad that I have been given such an amazing chance. It has prepared me in so many ways for my career. I will never forget SHINE and my first group of students. I wouldn't trade this for anything."

Fischer plans to attend LCCC for two years and then transfer to Bloomsburg University, where she will finish her bachelor's degree and teaching certification.

SHINE teachers

Like Fischer, Yusella also worked as an LCCC education intern with the SHINE program before transferring to Kutztown University.

After graduation, she began her teaching career at East Penn Elementary School, but continued serving as an assistant SHINE teacher at Panther Valley; as well as started as a home visitor.

Now, Yusella has transformed into one of the 13 SHINE teachers in the program and helps first- through fourth-grade SHINE students at Shull-David Elementary in Lehighton.

Miller explained that SHINE teachers work with the students' elementary teachers to create a plan to help the students improve in math and reading, as well as build on their strengths and work on their weaknesses.

"Regular communication between afterschool and regular school teachers through email, logs and face-to-face is promoted," she said, adding that the program has found this to be a very beneficial way of making sure the child succeeds in his education, because it builds a bridge between the school and the family.

Monthly progress reports are sent to SHINE teachers to see how students are progressing and what areas need to be focused on.

In addition to a partnership between the school and SHINE staff, training sessions for professional development and planning are required for all SHINE teachers. Training sessions are administered through LCCC and are compliant with Act 48.

According to the results of a teacher impact survey, which was completed by 17 classroom teachers who have worked as a SHINE teacher in one of the six centers for at least one year, 100 percent strongly agreed or agreed that being a SHINE Afterschool teacher has improved student learning in their classroom; 81 percent strongly agreed or agreed that the experience has improved their classroom management skills; 100 percent strongly agreed or agreed that they now have a better understanding in the important role families play in the success of a child's education; 94.2 percent strongly agreed or agreed that the experience has improved the overall atmosphere in their classroom; and 100 percent strongly agreed or agreed that they feel better prepared to be a teacher in the 21st century.

In addition to the questionnaire, teachers shared what strategies they learned through SHINE that they implemented in their own classroom to help improve student learning. Some strategies included using more technology, teaching outside the box, incorporating more hands-on learning, adapting to the students' emotional needs, and introducing one-on-one activities and Geo-fitness strategies.

They were also allowed to comment on their overall experience.

One teacher said, "I feel the afterschool program is a very positive experience for everyone involved. I have seen not only academic but emotional growth. There is a special bond among us all students, teachers, families. I do feel I have made some difference. I feel proud to be a SHINE teacher."

"My experience as an afterschool teacher has made me more aware of the pressing issues that today's families struggle with," another teacher said. "I have also gained more experience in addressing all learning styles, especially in the area of remediation."

Others added that they feel they have become more patient and show more empathy to students and their families; as well as have found a newfound appreciation for their own family and their careers.

Overall, Miller said she feels the SHINE program has improved the lives of hundreds of at-risk students and their families, while enriching the careers of college interns and teachers.

"Over the past six years, we have witnessed many positive educational and social outcomes for children and families through the SHINE Afterschool Program," she said.

"Most importantly, SHINE research suggests that students in pre-service experiences such as SHINE will increase the likelihood that students will complete their education degree and remain in the field."

Editor's note: This is the last of a five-part series on SHINE and the Seamless Network of Educational Programs. To read the first four chapters, visit www.tnonline.com.