Apr 19

Emily Panyachith, PEAK Director, Thornton Elementary

What was your first experience/job in OST? What impact did this have on you?

My journey began when I was a sophomore at Westminster High School. I had the opportunity to work for an afterschool program called Smart Girls Inc. Our mission was to work with middle school girls to inspire, lead, guide, and encourage them. Our primary goal was to deliver high-impact programs to these young women and advocate for girls’ rights in the state of Colorado.

Smart Girls Inc. helped us teach our students to build self-confidence and develop social skills, empathy, safety, and build trust. We had the ability to teach these young women that it is okay to stand up for themselves, and how much power their voice has. In total, I worked for over 7 years with this program and loved every moment of it.

After the nonprofit Smart Girls Inc. dissolved, I enrolled in the Asian Pacific Program. I was able to become a Menti (Mentor). This program was identical to the Big Brother and Big Sister programs. With this organization, I was a leader in the program. This program was able to provide us with knowledge of social skills, work ethic, perseverance, and academia. The Asian Pacific Program provided children with a safe space and a sense of community that some students did not get to have at home.

What are you doing now?

Fast forward to the present day and I am now a PEAK Director for our 21st Century program at Thornton Elementary School in the Adams 12 Five Star School district. I first started as a PEAK Site Aid before becoming PEAK Site Director.  The example led by the director that I shadowed helped me make my decision to pursue the Director position. I have been with this program for over 10 years serving my school and community. I currently run the largest program with over 80 students and counting.

What was your journey getting to where you are now?

Out-of-school time has always been a huge part of my life. Afterschool programs made me into the woman I am today. Growing up my mother had to work multiple jobs and with no place to go, afterschool programs were there for me. The area I resided in at the time had lower socioeconomic status. With my parents being divorced, afterschool programs were there to help shape and mold me to be a strong, compassionate, honest, independent human that is capable of conquering anything.

In my community, it was easy to get involved with the wrong crowd and choose a bad path. Nevertheless, I am living proof that when you put your mind to something you can do anything. If it were not for programs like the Asian Pacific Program, who knows what could have happened to my life. The Asian Pacific Program made sure to provide daily checkups, help with my mental health, and took the time the chance to get to know me on a personal level.  The program helped guide me and kept me accountable for my actions. The Asian Pacific Program provided me with a safe space to be my full authentic self.

 From a young age, I always wanted to give back and make an impact on someone’s life and now I am doing just that. It was not an easy journey due to certain constraints growing up. I was also an ESL student and English was not my first language, which allows me to relate to my students and families. I know the hardships and the struggles; my heart is full when I know my presence has made a difference even if it is just one person or family.

What is the value of working in this field? What excites you most?

Working with PEAK is seeing students’ faces light up, seeing the excitement when they receive a folder to enroll in PEAK. What also excites me is seeing my students wanting to return and paying it forward. The impact that I had on some of my students has inspired them to volunteer and some even became program site aides. I can watch them grow, personally and professionally, and can mentor them and be a positive role model. I’m also able to be part of their personal achievements and love to celebrate their success with them. It does not get any better than that! My current site aides are part of my “why.” Their stories and legacies will continue, and I know they will be the next generation of positive influences in the OST community.

 My students, their families, and the community always have a safe space with me. I am available to listen during and after hours. I have become their voice and their advocate no matter the time of day. The parents can trust me to provide their students with resources, integrity, opportunities, and an environment that feels like home. Our program does not just focus on academics, we also focus on FUN! We have community partnerships like robotics, peace jam, field trips, Balon Soccer, and many other community builders.

 When not working, what do you like to do in your spare time?

 When I am not working, I enjoy spending time with my family and especially my wife. I enjoy cooking, dancing, karaoke, festivals, and anything fun or entertaining. I love being an Auntie because I can let my inner child out and watch them grow. I can use the tools and knowledge from my job with my nieces and nephews. I am also a foodie and I enjoy trying new restaurants.

Is there anything else you would like to share about yourself, your experiences in OST, or the OST field?

Overall, I believe that Out-of-School-Time programs give students amazing opportunities that they never would have had, and this is why I have been in the field for over 15 years. I believe in the mission and the goals that Out-of-School Time has for students and their families. I am living proof of what an impact afterschool programs have on children, families, and the community. This is not the end of the chapter, but just an introduction to the next page of my journey. I look forward to what the future holds and all the impact we can do with this work!