Over the last year, Robby Ellis-Williams began preparing for kindergarten.

With the help of Chris Frantz, a Kindergarten SHINE home visitor, as well as his family, he practiced his letter and number recognition, printing his name and more.

By the time school began in August, Robby knew the sounds each letter made, could identify numbers and printed his name with ease. He also had an imagination for telling stories and working with props to convey a message.

"The goal of the Kindergarten SHINE program is to give a child a jump start in their math and reading skills," Frantz said, adding that they received Robby's referral from the Right From The Start program, in which Robby already participated.

She noted that common goals for the program include numeral and alphabet identification and printing, as well as personal goals set through results of testing.

Frantz worked with Robby on a weekly basis and in conjunction with bi-weekly visits he received from Right From The Start parent educator, Jennifer Colecio. Together, the pair, with the help of Robby's family, helped the 5-year-old make leaps and bounds in his school preparation.

Today, Frantz continues her home visits with Robby and works with him on skills he is now learning in the classroom.

About Kindergarten SHINE

The Kindergarten SHINE program is the first step of the SHINE Afterschool program. SHINE is funded through the 21st Century Community Learning Centers Grant of the Pennsylvania Department of Education and the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency, and administered through Lehigh Carbon Community College.

The program's main goal is to help students build their learning skills through various activities outside the classroom; as well as build stronger family involvement. Home visitors work with kindergarten teachers to prepare and address areas where the student may need extra help.

Frantz explained that she receives information from the teacher on the student and then tailors her activities to meet those needs.

"We keep an open communication with the child's teacher," she noted, adding that progress reports are helpful in determining how a child is doing in school.

Frantz also encourages families to take an active role in working with the child to build skills for overall educational success.

Ways could include allowing the child to make up games using letters and numbers, helping with dinner preparation, enjoying family game nights, and participating in afterschool programs.

Does the program work?

Since its inception in 2005, the SHINE program has expanded operations into six different centers in Carbon and Schuylkill counties.

In the Kindergarten SHINE program, a total of 71 children are currently being helped 50 weeks of the year by home visits.

Over the last five years, data has been collected and the results show that over the course of the program, kindergarten-age children have improved significantly in their letters and numbers recognition, reading and sound association; as well as attendance and participation.

According to Project SHINE's 2005-2010 Trend Data Report, students were improving these skills by significant percentages.

In letter recognition alone in 2009-2010, 64 percent of the kindergarten students went from recognizing 0-50 percent of their letters to 100 percent mastery of letters. These results follow in sound association, number recognition and reading.

Jeanne Miller, director of the Lehigh Carbon Community College's Carbon and Schuylkill counties educational services and the 21st Century Carbon and Schuylkill SHINE Afterschool Program, said that she feels home visits are the key to starting children on the right path for education.

"Kindergarten students receive 50 weeks of home visits and are invited to center activities," Miller said. "We believe these home visits are also the reason for a 90 percent parent involvement rate, and increased academic success. Home visits are the lifeline to our students and families."

Miller also noted that without programs like the Kindergarten SHINE program, students who need extra help outside the classroom would not be able to receive it.

How to become a SHINE student

With the SHINE program, the child must be referred into the program for academic support.

Miller noted that most referrals come from Right from The Start, Head Start, Pre-K Counts, preschools and the local school districts.

After a referral form is filled out, it starts the process of getting a child into SHINE. Families are called and a home visit is made and then children are enrolled in the program.

An instruction plan is developed in partnership with the student's teacher, which focuses on weaknesses and strengths in reading, math and social skills.

Editor's Note: Look for Part 2 of "The Faces of SHINE" next week, which will cover the first through fifth grade SHINE Afterschool program. This program has touched the lives of hundreds of students and has helped them improve their grades and learn that education does not end at the end of the school day.