Carbon County students in grades six, seven, and eight, will soon be able to experience first-hand, the careers of the future, thanks to a state grant.

During a press conference Thursday morning at Carbon Career & Technical Institute in Jim Thorpe, representatives of Lehigh Carbon Community College and the SHINE afterschool program; as well as state legislators and CCTI officials, made the official announcement that LCCC was named the recipient of a $630,000 Department of Transportation grant. The grant will be used to expand and operate the Carbon County SHINE STEM Career Academy at CCTI for the next three years.

"For those of you who are familiar with the SHINE program," David Reinbold, executive director at CCTI said, "you know that it is an excellent program for students and parents to have students work on homework and do all sorts of things to get them involved and be successful in school. Last summer, CCTI decided to try and collaborate with LCCC to see what we could do to get Palmerton and Weatherly involved as well."

He noted that through that new collaboration, a five-week pilot program, where 40 students from all five school districts in Carbon County participated, was implemented to see how a career academy would do. Over the course of five weeks, the students received tutoring and homework help, as well as learned skills in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) to design and build a solar-powered shed.

"It was a great program for these students,"Reinbold said. "The next step was what can we do to expand this? Jeanne (Miller) and LCCC worked to secure this grant that will be used for the program."

He noted that CCTI and LCCC will partner with the school districts to serve at least 100 students annually.

"It's an excellent, excellent opportunity for students throughout Carbon County to learn about careers and career pathways, all the skills that are out there, all the opportunities, and learn about CCTI and what programs are offered here."

Reinbold then introduced two ninth-grade students, Jesse Rossman and Justin Kaminski, who designed the first of six career projects that will be implemented this year. They designed race cars, which will be built by the students and raced.

He credited Jeanne Miller, director of LCCC's Carbon and Schuylkill counties educational services and SHINE; and Rachel Strucko, coordinator of the SHINE STEM Career Academy; as well as everyone involved with making a program like this a reality.

Miller explained that this academy will be held two-and-a-half hours a day, four days a week, 36 weeks of the year and will use two models that students can choose from an academic model, where students will receive tutoring and homework help; or a career-focused model, where students will choose two hands-on projects based on careers of the future.

It will also promote students as teachers, bringing in high school and college students as the team leaders for the exercises.

"These are for students who are motivated," she said. "Whether your child wants to be scientist, a doctor, an architect, a welder, a pipe fitter, or a nurse, they have to feel comfortable with science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

"We're going to push these students," she added. "We're going to take the jobs of the future and we're going to put them into career projects. Students will work with academic and technical teachers to find which direction they want to go with their life."

One thing Miller pointed out was that during the pilot program, over 50 percent of the participants were young women.

"This is very important," she said, "because we know young women have the ability to go into these fields but hesitate. We want to encourage young women about science, technology, engineering and mathematics and show them that there are a lot of positions open for women in these skills."

She noted the there are no income guidelines for students, but the program operates on a first come, first served basis.

The first project, Cars of The Future, will begin in April. Hal Resh, CCTI technology instructor, who unveiled the race cars designs, will be one of the instructors overseeing the design, construction and building of the car, and will also be the person who drives it during the races.

Donald Snyder, LCCC president, addressed the audience.

"This has been a collaboration with education at all levels, the community, the legislators, and the federal and state governments," he said. "When this started, the idea was to help young people, preschool and early elementary, catch up to where they needed to be so they were in alignment with their classes. (The SHINE model) has become a national model for emulating how a community comes together using various resources to help students be successful.

"This is a program that empowers students to reach their full potential. Because of this, hundreds of students today are much better off with their potential for success and aspiration for their future," Snyder continued. "We have now gone from elementary school, focusing on academics; and moved up to sixth, seventh and eighth grades. With this next phase, we're looking at moving the program into life preparation and career preparation by helping these students understand what their options are for the future and how to use their own talents and skills that they have so that the academics and skills for future careers and professional programs can be identified early on. By bringing all these elements together, this community will grow much stronger."

Snyder thanked the legislators for supporting these afterschool programs in Carbon County.

Miller then introduced guest speakers for the announcement, including state Sen. John Yudichak and state Rep. Doyle Heffley; Jim Thorpe Superintendent Barbara Conway; a SHINE parent, Kate Gonzalez; and Drew Solonoski, an eighth-grade student at Weatherly who participated in the five-week pilot career academy.

Yudichak commended Miller for her efforts.

"Jeanne is the sun behind the 'SHINE'," he said. "She is the energy that makes this program work."

He said he is amazed by the SHINE model because of the quality of education these students are receiving and he looks forward to watching it expand to sixth, seventh and eighth grade students.

"I've always felt programs like this afterschool program were certainly an investment in that child, an investment in that child's educational opportunities," Yudichak said. "If we are going to compete with the rest of the world, not just our neighbors in mid-Atlantic states, but the rest of the world, we are going to have to have a highly-trained, educated workforce. We're going to need that to compete and that starts right here, in secondary schools and in partnership between the community college, secondary schools and the community. This program puts shoes on the feet of these children so they can walk confidently into the future, with an education and the love and support that this program does by bringing families, education and the community together."

Heffley echoed Yudichak's thoughts, saying that it is important to get young people involved and prepared for the future.

"It's important that we look at the biggest bang for the buck and programs like this, what they deliver, is just phenomenal," he said. "To see the children with that energy of wanting to learn show through is amazing."

Conway then spoke about the seamless network model, which illustrates how the programs Carbon County offers students help families and children from birth through college and beyond.

"The seamless network promotes school readiness, college-ready students, parent engagement, effective teacher recruitment, and retention in training to build a foundation for a skilled workforce. That's what we're doing in Carbon County," she said. "This has been a building effort for all of us here. I am proud that I could be involved and am excited to continue my involvement with this program."

Gonzalez and Solonoski both credited the SHINE program and Career Academy for helping promote a brighter future.

Gonzalez said her children, which range from eighth grade down to pre-kindergarten, are all in SHINE model programs.

"They get so much more out of this," she said of the programs. "SHINE has given these kids a look at what their future could be and motivates them to further their education."

Solonoski echoed Gonzalez's thoughts, providing his opinion on his experience with the career academy.

"This past fall I attended the STEM Career Academy," he said. "While I was there, I learned so many things, such as how to build a shed and how to fix the outside of a car. What was surprising to me was how the teachers made every project exciting. The instructors made everything fun and the lessons gave us hands-on experience in a lot of different fields. The experience was so enjoyable. The fact is, because of this experience, I now have a clearer idea of what I would like to do."

Miller thanked everyone for coming and sharing in the announcement.

"What a wonderful opportunity this is going to be," she said of this new venture. "Why wait until you get to the end of college, why not find out now, where your strengths and interests are and develop a career now?"

Reinbold then invited everyone to breakfast, which was made and served by CCTI students.