SHINE after-school program engaging more students and discouraging gang involvement

May 9, 2016
Opinion Editorial
Times Leader, April 9, 2016

By Rep. Lou Barletta and PA state Sen. John Yudichak

Anyone who reads the newspapers or watches the news on television knows that we have significant gang activity in our part of Pennsylvania, and finding ways to combat the problem has been one of our top priorities. Together, as legislators at the state and federal level, we have looked for programs that unite various facets of our communities and work to prevent children from joining gangs in the first place.

Thankfully, we have found one such program that is a proven success – SHINE, or Schools and Homes in Education – and we are pleased to announce that it has expanded its reach in Luzerne County to include two schools in Hazleton.

SHINE is an after-school program, for children in kindergarten through eighth grade, that has challenged students’ minds, encouraged enthusiasm in learning and kept them from joining gangs. With an emphasis on project-based STEAM learning (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics), SHINE opens up new possibilities for students who might otherwise not even consider their potential. It has been flourishing in Carbon and Schuylkill counties in partnership with Lehigh Carbon Community College, where it is a nationally recognized after-school program, opening up brighter futures for thousands of children.

We were looking for the logical next step to follow our anti-gang initiative, Operation Gang-up in Luzerne County, which combines law enforcement, schools, students and parents to fight gang activity and recruitment. Fortunately, Wilkes University undertook a research project examining after-school programs, and naturally the successful example of SHINE stood out. To us, the addition of SHINE to a community’s resources seemed a natural course of action and one we could not afford to delay.

Today, there are seven SHINE locations in Luzerne County, to go along with eight others in Carbon and Schuylkill counties, and we were proud to stand at Maple Manor Elementary School last week to cut the ribbon on the newest site with director Jeanne Miller. Eighty students already are participating in two Hazleton locations, to go with more than 200 others across Luzerne County. The support of Wilkes University as the host institution, under the leadership of President Patrick Leahy, has been invaluable as the program continues to grow.

In our experiences with SHINE, we have seen the look of wonder on children’s faces as we took turns reading “The Night Before Christmas” at an event last year at a Barnes & Noble bookstore in Wilkes-Barre. And we have watched students engage in a project that on the surface looked like making pizza with rice cakes and marshmallow, but was in reality a lesson about running a profitable restaurant. SHINE occupies their time, to be sure, but it also occupies their minds and gives them hope that they might continue their education and lead successful lives.

Despite the achievements of SHINE in Carbon, Schuylkill, and Luzerne counties, the road has not always been easy. On the federal level, a vital funding source – the 21st Century Community Learning Centers program – was slated to be zeroed out. Congressman Lou Barletta fought to rescue the money and was able to restore $1 billion in funding so that after-school programs like SHINE could continue. State Sen. John Yudichak has worked with state government and the area’s premier foundations and nonprofits that have agreed an investment in Luzerne County SHINE is worthwhile.

The list of organizations that have stepped up is impressive: The William G. McGowan Charitable Fund, United Way of Wyoming Valley, United Way of Greater Hazleton, the state Department of Economic and Community Development and the Commonwealth Financing Authority.

We are proud to have stood together over the years to help provide educational opportunities to children from across our region, and proud to have helped to expand SHINE to Luzerne County and into Hazleton. This is an issue that has brought us together, a Republican and a Democrat, because the education and safety of our children should not be partisan issues.

Lou Barletta, R-Hazleton, is a U.S congressman representing the 11th Congressional District. John Yudichak, D-Plymouth Township, is a state senator representing the 14th Senatorial District.