Mrs. Kristen Panaski strives to impact students


Marissa Werner

As one of the coaches for the Unified Bocce team, NPHS Health and PE teacher Kristen Panaski loves the interactions between the team.

TOWAMENCIN- “Nobody knew how to rock climb in my class except for one student and at the end of the quarter, they all knew how to do it. I love that cause you can see instantly that you’re making an impact, and it’s worth it,” remarked North Penn High School Health and PE teacher Mrs. Kristen Panaski.

Over the past fifteen years, Panaski’s impact has extended from teaching kids to rock climb to giving lessons about health insurance, and most recently, helping lead the Unified Bocce team to the state championship in their first year.

Road to Teaching

Panaski’s journey began at the Indiana University of Pennsylvania. At college, Panaski was a swimmer and actually swam with Jeff Fakish, the head swimming coach at North Penn.

For Panaski, the path to becoming a teacher was not a straight and narrow one. Although she initially went into education, there were moments where she questioned her decision to become a teacher.

“While I was student teaching I actually had the feeling at a point that I didn’t want to be a teacher. And that happens where you change your mind,” Panaski reflected.

The program Panaski was in didn’t require any tests to go to grad school, so she decided to try another semester of school and enroll in grad school.

“My boyfriend at the time, who’s now my husband, was still in college, and I said I’m going to try grad school. I was like even if I go back to teaching, I have a couple of grad credits I can apply to get tenure. I ended up getting a grad assistantship so then I finished my master’s in sports management at IUP.”

After graduating from IUP, Panaski went into a career unrelated to education, and instead more related to another passion of hers: sports.

“When I finished my degree, I interned with the Philadelphia Flyers. It was a really cool experience. I got to work at the Wells Fargo center with a lot of people in the Flyers Organization,” Panaski shared.

Although the experience was a valuable one for Panaski, the particular summer she interned was the one that led into a full year lockout for the NHL, making it impossible for her to land a job after the summer.

“The summer I interned was the summer that led into a full year lockout, and the NHL season never happened from ‘04 to ‘05. There were no jobs cause the whole season, the whole thing, shut down for a year,” said Panaski.

The shutdown led to Panaski going back on her teaching degree and finding a job as a teacher in the North Penn School District. To this day, one of the things Panaski believes in is that everything happens for a reason, and her path to becoming a teacher is a clear indicator of that.

I always say things happen for a reason and I think it was good to experience something else to realize I definitely should have been a teacher. I’m glad I had that life experience cause I realized that it was a good decision to go back to teaching. I was in the right place at the right time when I got hired here

— Kristen Panaski

“I always say things happen for a reason and I think it was good to experience something else to realize I definitely should have been a teacher. I’m glad I had that life experience cause I realized that it was a good decision to go back to teaching. I was in the right place at the right time when I got hired here.”

Panaski’s mom was a teacher along with many of her relatives which inspired her to go into education. Her experiences in high school volunteering with Special Olympics also had a huge influence on her.

“When I was in high school, I taught swim lessons to kids in Special Olympics and I loved the instant gratification of teaching something and you physically see them learn it. And that’s one of the reasons why I went into PE; the instant gratification of teaching something and you can see someone learn something new,” Panaski remarked.

Unified Bocce

Special Olympics is something Panaski is heavily involved with at the high school now as the coach for the Unified Bocce team. The team started last year with merely 15 members and won the state championship, a feat many didn’t think was possible. This year, the team has expanded to 29 members and is in the beginning of their second season.

“The school my mom taught at had an Unified Bocce team so I actually knew a little bit about it. I had originally wrote an Education Foundation grant looking into starting Bocce but it kind of fell apart. Mrs. Schoppe started the track team and when she came up to me about Bocce, I reminded her that I had written a grant. We made some calls, and we made it happen. This is only our second year, but it’s felt like it’s been longer,” commented Panaski on the beginnings of the Bocce team.

A key reason it feels like it has been longer than two years is due to the incredible accomplishments of the Bocce team in their first year, namely how they became state champions.

“Mindblowing. I still can’t believe that happened like it’s not normal. I know how it happened, but I still kind of have no idea how it happened to tell you the truth. Last year, I was literally just grabbing people out of PE class saying you don’t play a winter sport, can you help me out? I didn’t even fill every spot,” declared Panaski in disbelief.

Bocce is a unique sport in that coaches are not allowed to coach during the matches. Therefore, it’s even more critical that the team members are all experts at communicating with each other and working together.

Marissa Werner
During an 8B practice, Panaski coaches the Unified Bocce team in preparation for their upcoming match.

“They have to work together, and they have to communicate. They have to talk strategy. You have to set them up for success in practice and encourage them to communicate during practice because during the match they have to figure it out themselves. That’s the part I love about it, but as a coach it’s the most nerve wracking cause I wanna jump in and be like ‘don’t do that!’ but I can’t,” expressed Panaski.

Bocce is coached by Panaski, sophomore class adviser and special education teacher Ms. Megan Jermain, and school physical therapist Eric Pollock.

“It’s unique aspects: special education, physical education, and a physical therapist. It’s a cool combination that we all know them in different ways,” noted Panaski.

Although winning the state championship was a memorable moment for Panaski, it’s not her favorite memory of coaching Bocce.

“I love seeing people smile and be happy and be involved. A lot of these special ed students would never be a PIAA athlete or never have that opportunity, and they are. They’re PIAA champs from last year. And then to watch them do well is really fun and watch them high five each other and interact with each other is probably the coolest part for me because they figure it out. They don’t have a choice. You’re not going to be successful if you can’t communicate. They have to work together and that’s the part I love about it.”

When the team went to States last year, it was not a clear-cut win from the beginning. In fact, their first match, they lost 11-0 to the defending state champions.

“I remember Melissa, a girl with Down Syndrome who graduated last year, started bawling her eyes out. I told her, ‘You got a day off of school! We made it and nobody thought we would make it. That’s not the point.’ And I started singing Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off” and everyone started laughing and that just calmed everyone down. And then we were successful after that. I love that, that interaction. Cause it’s really not a big deal if we win or lose. It isn’t. It’s about having fun and making those connections,” Panaski expressed.

Lessons from Students

Along with teaching lessons to her students, Panaski has learned a lot from her students about honesty, patience, and enjoying the little moments in life.

“It’s okay for me to admit that I don’t know everything. I am not the best at playing all the sports I teach. It’s okay to be honest. It’s okay to say you’re not good at something. I say that as a teacher to them, but it’s also an important lesson for me that it’s okay not to be good at everything,” remarked Panaski.

Working with special education students has taught Panaski how to let go of her tendency to control things.

“I’ve learned a lot of patience working with special ed kids. I actually am a control freak and I had to let it go. I’ve learned that you gotta stop stressing out about things you cannot control. That enabled me to handle more things. I think I’m juggling so many things that you just gotta roll with the punches.”

Enjoying the little moments and appreciating the small joys is another thing Panaski has learned and strives to do everyday.

I’ve learned to catch the little moments…Someone couldn’t rock climb, and now they can. Someone couldn’t shoot a basketball, and now they can. I need to take a step back and appreciate that

— Kristen Panaski

“I’ve learned to catch the little moments. I expect everyone to learn everything but I also need to take a step back and see everyone’s faces. I’ve learned to do that by sitting back and experiencing that instead of being a drill sergeant. Someone couldn’t rock climb, and now they can. Someone couldn’t shoot a basketball, and now they can. I need to take a step back and appreciate that,” she noted.

Life outside of North Penn

Outside of the gymnasium and classroom, Panaski enjoys watching sports whether it’s on television or live in a stadium. Over the years, she’s gone to numerous baseball, hockey, football, among other sports games.

“I love watching sports. Practice what you preach so I worked for the Flyers and I go to Flyers games all the time. My husband and I have been season ticket holders every year for the Phillies since the ball park’s been open. We go 25-30 Phillies games a year. Last year, we went to the all star game. We travel a little bit and see the Phillies on the road. I’ve been to Denver, San Francisco. We usually take our vacation around the Phillies games,” she laughed.

Panaski’s love for watching sports goes back to when she was a kid and would go to games with her parents.

“My parents used to bring me to the Phillies games as a kid, so maybe it’s the nostalgia of that. When I was a kid, my dad used to bring me to Sixers games and I met a couple Sixers by accidents. I’ve always loved sports,” revealed Panaski.

Advice to Students

One of the things Panaski encourages all of her students to do is to sign up for as many clubs and activities as possible.

“I went to a smaller high school. I never took Anatomy in high school because it didn’t exist. I look at how awesome our STEM program is. It’s unbelievable. And that didn’t exist when I was in high school. I always say to students sign up for clubs and things. You have opportunities here you’ll never have at other schools. Everyone can find their spot here, but you have to want to. There’s so many opportunities out there, you just gotta grab them. You have to learn that people aren’t holding your hands in this building. You gotta go out and look for an opportunity.”

Another lesson Panaski strives to instill in her students is to always be honest and take ownership for mistakes and wrongdoings.

“Admitting that you made a mistake is the hardest lesson to learn as an adult. It’s okay to make mistakes and own up to them. It’s okay to say you don’t know everything, that’s what google is for. And that’s where you grow as a person. Those are lessons I’m still working on myself but I think those are what make me a better teacher too. Admit your mistakes and open your mind to different things out there cause you never know, you might find something you like,” conveyed Panaski.

Panaski encourages everyone to come out to the Bocce games and speak to Mrs. Megan Schoppe about joining the Unified Track team.