Growing a garden using hydroponics. That's science.

Learning how a business ships packages to destinations all over the world using a computer-based tracking program. That's technology.

Building a windmill to harness wind energy. That's engineering.

Counting money. That's mathematics.

These are just a few of the things students learn through the 21st Century Carbon and Schuylkill SHINE Afterschool program.

During the 12th Annual Lights On Afterschool Program last week, over 300 students from Panther Valley, Shenandoah Valley, Mahanoy, Lehighton and Jim Thorpe showcased these lessons and illustrated how SHINE has helped them become better students through the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) model.

What is SHINE?

The SHINE program is a model that bridges the educational gap between school and home.

According to Jeanne Miller, director of Lehigh Carbon Community College's Carbon and Schuylkill counties educational services and SHINE, the SHINE model is "based on state and national standards that promote innovative, project based activities, that are hands-on and focused on individual student needs."

It was developed in 2005 by the Carbon County Child and Family Collaborative as a way to help elementary students who are struggling with math and reading skills. It is administered by LCCC and made possible through local, state and federal funding sources as well as participating school districts.

The SHINE program was initially introduced into three Carbon County school districts Jim Thorpe, Lehighton and Panther Valley.

By 2006, results from the program showed that students were improving in six priority areas: homework completion, school attendance, student behavior, academic performance, parent involvement and family adult education opportunities.

In 2007, the program expanded into two Schuylkill County school districts Shenandoah Valley and Mahanoy Area; and in 2008, the SHINE II program began at Prince Hall Elementary in Philadelphia.

The SHINE program now serves 320 first through fifth grade Carbon and Schuylkill County students through a 32-week curriculum.

"I feel the SHINE program works because of the 'whatever it takes philosophy,' that has been adopted by the SHINE teachers, interns and administrators," Miller said. "The comprehensive strategies that have been implemented by the LCCC administrators and staff help to ensure student success and promote family involvement."

She noted that strategies that are unique to the SHINE program include: a 32-week afterschool curriculum; instructional plans; a summer camp; nine home visits during the summer; a well-trained staff; strong partnerships with local school districts, community organizations and legislators; and a creative approach to create more effective teachers through high school students and college interns.

In the first through third grade SHINE program, teachers, high school tutors and mentors and college interns expose the students to "developmentally appropriate STEM careers and literature-based activities called the 'Victory Garden.'"

In the fourth and fifth grade SHINE, Miller explained that the courses used are from the "Future is Now" curriculum, which focuses on STEM skills and high priority occupations.

"STEM activities focus on high priority occupations and encompass critical thinking, health care and nutrition, advanced manufacturing, engineering and logistics, transportation, going green (hydroponics sustainable resources, alternative power, and conservation), and business and finances," she said.

Does SHINE work?

When the program began, the question of "will this program help the students" was on everyone's minds.

But after six years, the results consistently show that SHINE is a successful afterschool program that helps students increase their desire to learn and build stronger family bonds.

Miller highlighted some portions in the Project SHINE 2005-2010 Trend Data Report, a nearly 100-page report of research and data that has been collected since its inception.

According to the data, 80 percent of SHINE students demonstrated an improvement in the completion of homework; 78 percent improved in academic performance; 76 percent improved in classroom behavior; 60 percent had average or superior math grades; 50 percent had above average or superior math grades; and 96 percent of the students in the program were promoted to the next grade.

She also pointed out that parental involvement has increased through SHINE.

Results show that there is a 76 percent family participation rate at the SHINE programs, family nights and center activities; 99 percent of the SHINE parents have expressed satisfaction and would refer the program to other families; and 56 percent of the family members were inspired by their students to continue their education to better the lives of their children.

How does

SHINE work?

SHINE was designed to support at-risk students who are struggling in their education by finding different ways to help them learn.

Miller explained that the curriculum the SHINE model uses is "extremely unique, and provides academically rigorous activities for academically at-risk students."

Students are referred to the program either through their school, Head Start, the Right From The Start program, or Pre-K Counts because of their need for academic support.

When a student is accepted into the program, a SHINE instructional plan is developed by the teachers to identify areas that need to be addressed. It is considered a "living document" that integrates the best practice models for the child, and is updated periodically to see how the student's needs have changed.

The teachers then follow each student's plan to properly address their needs, while creating a fun and safe afterschool learning center.

Each session at SHINE has a specific schedule. When the students arrive, they are given a meal and work on their homework. Following homework time, teachers plan activities based on STEM or physical activity that promotes academic learning.

Activities may include growing a garden, building small-scale windmills, writing to a pen pal in the SHINE II program or learning to play the African drums.

SHINE supporters speak out

Miller credits numerous organizations and people with helping make SHINE a success.

She noted that without the support of school districts; county, state and federal legislators; dedicated teachers, interns and high school students; and parents, SHINE students would not be able to achieve as much as they have over the last six years.

Rosemary Porembo, superintendent of the Panther Valley School District, said she was thankful the program was in the school district.

"I think the SHINE program is very beneficial because of the students it targets," she said. "The added support they get through SHINE, and how it involves parents, helps the students value their education. It is a win-win situation; a win for the child because the parents are involved and a win for the school because it builds a partnership with the family. We are looking for that partnership to help the child succeed."

Barbara Conway, superintendent of the Jim Thorpe Area School District, echoed Porembo's thoughts.

"I'm more than supportive of the program and am thrilled with the results."

Earlier this month, Conway spent two days advocating for the SHINE program at statewide events the Afterschool Advocacy Day and the Pennsylvania School Boards Association Conference.

Donald Snyder, president of LCCC, feels that the SHINE program has helped all students involved in the program.

"The program is not only beneficial with the children, but it is also an opportunity for our students who are going into the teaching profession," Snyder said at the Lights On program.

"They often learn what it means to be involved in a family. The difference between this program and many other afterschool programs is that it engages everybody in this process local legislators, county commissioners and officials, and school districts. It is a partnership and it was designed to make sure these children have the best start in their futures."

Terry Bonner, a SHINE teacher at L.B. Morris Elementary in Jim Thorpe and a high school teacher at Panther Valley High School, said that this program has made him a better teacher on the high school level.

State Sen. John T. Yudichak said that since his first visit to a SHINE center in Jim Thorpe, he has been impressed with the overall program and the staff which operates it.

"Quality afterschool programs, like the SHINE program are valuable community assets," Yudichak said at the Lights On program.

"Programs like SHINE add value to our schools by providing a desirable platform for our children to learn and mature and they add value to our communities by providing direction for families looking to build a better future for their children. Not many programs accomplish this."

To learn more about SHINE, visit www.shineafterschool.com.

Editor's note: Look for Part 3 of "The Faces of SHINE" next week, which will cover the sixth through eighth grade Career Academy. This new program has taught 40 Carbon County students a variety of trades, from auto collision and maintenance to architectural design and more. The students also completed a solar-powered construction project that amazed even the Carbon Career & Technical Institute staff members who taught the courses.