The Lehigh Carbon Community College Carbon and Schuylkill SHINE Afterschool program has been helping elementary students in their educations for nearly a decade.

Thousands of children across Carbon and Schuylkill counties have excelled in school because of this specialized program, which has provided students with meaningful educational experiences, positive mentoring relationships, summer home visits, meals and the framework for a successful future through hands-on activities that partner with academic skills.

But now, the 2013-2014 program, which costs approximately $1,370 per child annually or $33 a week for 42 weeks, may be in jeopardy thanks to a possible six-month delay in funding on the federal level.

Jeanne Miller, director of the SHINE Afterschool program, explained that there is a "lag in 21st Century federal funding," which gets passed onto the Pennsylvania Department of Education.

"Eighty percent of the jobs of the future will need STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) skills and SHINE is effectively building a successful workforce one student at a time," Miller said of the program. "The SHINE Afterschool program is the only comprehensive out-of-school educational and social program available in Carbon and Schuylkill counties. There are no other resources for at-risk children (Boys/Girls Clubs, YMCAs) in Carbon County and in the Shenandoah and Mahanoy areas."

Miller added that in addition to academic benefits, the program also helps keep children out of trouble by keeping them safe during the time after school until their parents are home from work.

The delay in funding if it happens, will begin the trickle down effect to the state and then local levels and will effect over 300 children, ages pre-kindergarten through fifth grade, as well as 30 SHINE staff, in this area.

The proof is in the results

Over the past nine years, the SHINE program has survived in tough economic times, finding creative ways to leverage funding through a number of outside sources. It has proved that the program works through student academic scores rising where they were previously struggling.

Statistics show that the SHINE program is working to make a difference in the lives of the students that are enrolled. Elementary students must be recommended by their teachers for the SHINE program because they are struggling in some area of academics or social skills. The Middle School Career Academy is open to all student and applications go through school guidance counselors.

From 2007 to 2012, in LCCC's trend data report for 1,645 SHINE students in pre-kindergarten through fifth grade, 83 percent of the students demonstrated improvement in the completion of their homework.

Seventy-nine percent improved in academic performance; 65 percent improved in classroom behavior, and 97 percent were promoted to the next grade at the end of the school year.

In addition, the report showed that there was an 88 percent increase in family participation at SHINE programs.

As a result of the program's strong performance over the years, the program has been highlighted by the national Attendanceworks.org for its strategies for increasing school day attendance; the Pennsylvania Partnership for Children for its strong career awareness program; and by the After-School Alliance for its effectiveness evaluation results on STEM.

Most recently, SHINE has been selected a one of 15 out of 11,000 21st Century Afterschool programs across the country that will be highlighted in the Lessons Learned Document, published by the United States Department of Education this fall. The article will highlight the effectiveness of the SHINE program in the areas of career and technology using the STEM curriculum.

How a funding delay will affect everyone

With the very real possibility of the SHINE program's funding being delayed, teachers, schools and the county are worried.

Jill Haughney, a second grade teacher at Mahanoy Area Elementary, said that the SHINE program has helped her students in ways the normal classroom cannot.

"They give the students a lot of support in areas that they wouldn't be receiving at home or in the classroom," she said, noting that the SHINE teachers work with the students on classroom homework; as well as social skills and health topics. "It reflects in the classroom and in their grades."

"I see the benefits to the students because it supports them academically. If they are struggling in something there is an open door communication between SHINE and the classroom teachers so they know exactly what needs to be worked on. It also benefits the whole school because it provides another opportunity for students that it wouldn't be able to offer during the school days."

Haughney said that she sees excitement from the students that participate in the SHINE program because they look forward to the activities, while still learning their academics.

"I don't know if people realize how much this program is benefiting the kids until they aren't in the program," she added, noting that she saw one student who left the SHINE program begin to slide in his academics. "It would hurt them academically, socially and physically if the SHINE program was discontinued."

Terence Bonner, a SHINE teacher at L.B. Morris Elementary in Jim Thorpe, echoed Haughney's thoughts when it came to the program's benefits.

"I think one thing the SHINE program does such a good job at is bridging the gap between home and school," he said, "It also gives the students opportunities to come after school and engage in fun hands-on activities that make learning more fun and exciting."

Bonner continued that the teachers are always worried about the SHINE program going away because it would do harm to the students.

He pointed out that recently one teacher told him about a student who is making leaps and bounds in his academics as a result of the SHINE program.

Another student also showed him her honor roll certificate, which wouldn't have been possible without the extra boost from the program.

"She was so proud," he said. "I just fear that if SHINE wasn't there to help these students with their homework or give them the little extra boost they needs, those accomplishments, like the honor roll certificate, may not be possible. That would be very disheartening as a teacher. The best thing about being a teacher is seeing the pride on the students' faces when they succeed. Once they start succeeding, it steam rolls and they enjoy school much more so if that wasn't available it would affect the students in a negative way."

Rosemary Porembo, superintendent of the Panther Valley School District, said that the SHINE program has helped the school district because it has provided students who are struggling with a way to find help and succeed in their education.

"As these students became successful, the school district saw its students performing better academically, saw less behavioral issues, and more family involvement because they now became an active player with their child's future and started having higher expectations for their children," she said.

"As a result of the program, the children became more confident in their ability to become more successful," Porembo continued.

"We get statistics at the end of every year and data to track each student's PSSA score. It has shown the students in SHINE have become a very successful part of the school district and their classroom," she said. "But if the SHINE program was delayed or went away, it would be a loss for the students."

Carbon County Commissioner Wayne Nothstein, who has been an advocate for the program through the Carbon County Child and Family Collaborative, said that the program has helped on the county level because it keeps the students out of trouble and out of the court systems.

"I think the SHINE program has helped the children by giving them a boost in their education when it counts the most," he said. "It will give them a head start for the future and increase their chances of succeeding in life and not being on of the people that are in the county systems."

The students

weigh in

Teachers and schools are not the only ones concerned about the future of the SHINE program.

Students currently enrolled in the program are worried because they love the program and have seen first-hand how it benefits them.

Jeremias Molina, 7, a student at Mahanoy Area Elementary, said he loves SHINE because he gets help with his homework and learns about fun things like transportation.

"The SHINE program has helped me because it reminds me that I need to do my homework," he said. "I would be sad if SHINE went away because I wouldn't see my friends as much."

Jason Stanley, 9, a student at Mahanoy Area Elementary, added that he likes SHINE because it helps him with his work and learn about fun things like building solar cars.

"SHINE has helped me in my classes and with getting my work done," he said, "But the favorite thing is doing my work and getting to hang out with friends."

Sydney McArdle, 11, a student at L.B. Morris Elementary, said that the program has helped her with her math and reading skills.

"It helped me because when I was in first grade, I struggled with math and now am proficient in it. I also had trouble with reading and now am proficient in that too," she said. "I wouldn't like it if the SHINE program goes away because it helps me in my school work."

Zachary Gilliard, 9, a student at L.B. Morris, also echoed McArdle's thoughts.

"I used to be a horrible reader but after getting up there with SHINE, I am now a really good reader," he said. "I like the program because you get to do fun activities and it helps me with my work. I wouldn't like it if SHINE went away because I wouldn't be able to hang out with friends, do my homework and work on projects."

Others affected

Miller explained that in addition to the SHINE Afterschool program, other branches of the program would be affected, including the Right From The Start program, which works with children from birth to kindergarten; the SHINE Career Academy, which provides students in sixth through eighth grade with hands-on courses in STEM at the Carbon Career & Technical Institute in Jim Thorpe; and the high school mentor program and the college intern program, which provide hands-on opportunities to work with young children for students looking to go into the teaching field.

"The dedication of the members of the Carbon County Child and Family Collaborative has resulted in a seamless network of educational programs from birth to high school," Miller said. "The interruption of the funding of SHINE will not only affect the seven school districts but hundreds of families in partner programs. We need to strive to sustain programs that have a high return on investment for our children the future workforce."