SHINE afterschool officials recently welcomed Marta Gabriel, regional manager for U.S. Sen. Patrick Toomey's office, to the Jim Thorpe centers.

During the meeting, Jeanne Miller, director of the SHINE program; and Dr. Barbara Conway, Jim Thorpe Area Superintendent; as well as other county and SHINE officials, talked about the importance of the SHINE program and how it bridges the gap in areas where students struggle academically.

Miller explained that the SHINE program, which serves students from birth through college, is a unique program in that it is designed to engage students in the areas of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) through hands-on projects while helping them learn their current classroom curriculum.

She noted that Gov. Tom Corbett's proposed budget cuts funding to lots of programs individually and groups them into a block grant, that can be designated to other areas.

"If something like that is done, it could affect a lot of programs," she said.

Miller also noted that the SHINE program is a model that works, based on over six years of evidence and data collected. Results show that 90 percent of parents are involved with their children in this program and that 80 percent of children improved in their academics as a result of SHINE.

Conway added that she is happy to be part of this initiative, which was created through the Carbon County Child and Family Collaborative.

"I am very happy that Jim Thorpe was on the ground floor of this program and I look forward to continuing this program," she said. "I think it is a very successful model."

Carbon County Commissioner Wayne Nothstein, who co-chairs the Child and Family Collaborative with Miller, said that this program has also helped the county by keeping children out of placements and in their own homes.

Because of this, Nothstein said, costs associated with placements have decreased.

"I believe in early childhood programs," he said.

Miller also pointed out that in addition to the SHINE program for elementary school children; a new initiative the Carbon County Career Academy has formed for middle school children. That initiative is operated through a partnership between Lehigh Carbon Community College and Carbon Career & Technical Institute, and engages students in hands-on projects in the areas of STEM by partnering technical instructors with academic teachers.

Caroline Allen, the coordinator at Pennsylvania Statewide Afterschool/ Youth Network, who also attended the meeting, commended Miller, Conway and officials involved in SHINE for helping the children.

Following the brief discussion, the group visited two of the L.B. Morris SHINE classrooms.

Students showed Gabriel what projects they were working on, including a Rube Goldberg project, which pairs various items together to work as one to complete a task, like lighting a light bulb using a marble after it rolls through multiple obstacles.

The group then traveled to Carbon Career & Technical Institute in Jim Thorpe to see the middle school students participating in the Carbon County Career Academy.

Students there were learning how to build a derby car, using various computer mapping programs, tools and other necessary information to fabricate the vehicle. The race car, was raced last Saturday by Hal Resh, a technical automotive teacher at CCTI who helped students with the project.

Rachel Strucko, coordinator for the Career Academy, welcomed Gabriel and state officials.

She explained that students go through seven week programs, based on various areas of STEM, including the race cars.

"These children fabricated the cars from scratch," Strucko explained. "They used geometry, algebra with no calculators. They are excited because they see the progress they make through learning. The parents are also over the moon because of this program.

"We work with the schools on class work as well as the program and so far it's working really well," she added. "We're advanced when it comes to STEM because of the technology and academic cooperative efforts."

Now that the race is over, Dave Reinbold, administrative director of CCTI, explained that the students will refit the vehicle with two engines, a solar-powered one and an alternative fuel one.

After the tours, Allen said she believed the SHINE program is an "innovative program and is a model that should be followed."

Gabriel said she felt this program was amazing.

"Children learn quickly when they can have a finished product in the end," she said. "They see what they are learning, from conceptual to hands-on. It's great how it's tied together."