Working summers in Manitowoc’s park and recreation program, Ryan Bahnaman realized he enjoyed working with children. That realization led him to seek a career that involves children.
Last spring, he received his master’s degree from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. His degree is in educational psychology, with an emphasis in school counseling.
Bahnaman is now months into his first job. He is a guidance counselor at Waupaca Learning Center.
“It was a long process,” he said.
He filled out about 50 applications and interviewed in five school districts.
“I walked into this school and felt it’s one of the best schools I’ve ever been in,” Bahnaman said.
He was impressed with the many resources the school has from its art, music and physical education programs to its Channel 99 school news program.
Bahnaman explained how he decided to become a guidance counselor.
After graduating from Roncalli High School in Manitowoc, he spent that summer and subsequent summers as an undergraduate student at UW-Green Bay working in Manitowoc’s park and recreation program.
Bahnaman worked with youths as a playground leader.
“During this time period, I really liked education, but I knew that I didn’t want to be a teacher,” he said. “I began to look into child and adolescent counseling. I think I was always drawn to helping kids develop in a positive manner.”
He studied psychology and served as a tutor in a Green Bay elementary school as part of the America Reads program.
“I went back and forth between a doctorate in counseling and a master’s degree in school counseling,” he said.
As a result, he was a research assistant and a teaching assistant at UW-Green Bay.
“After doing a lot of research and understanding what a professorship would be like, I knew it probably wouldn’t be my niche,” Bahnaman said. “I really wanted to work with younger kids.”
After graduating from UW-Green Bay, he went directly to graduate school at UW-Milwaukee, drawn to the college because of its counseling emphasis and its cultural diversity.
His main goal during his first year in the school district is to get to know the staff and students well, and to make connections with parents.
He said that he and Susan Dolski, who was also hired this year as a guidance counselor at the elementary level, will focus on how to make guidance fun.
“I meet with students individually and in the class,” he said.
The guidance counselors also do peer mediation and work with a group made up of new students.
“We really rely on the students having a conversation with each other and us about our topics for the year. I think they have the information,” he said. “We’re the catalyst to spark the understanding.”
Bahnaman says he has been impressed with the effort of the students.
He can provide support to students for any problems or concerns that they have.
“My goal is to get out there – to talk to the students, greet them,” he said.
What he likes about being an elementary school guidance counselor is that his work is preventive.
He is certified to work with pre-kindergarten through 12th-grade students.
Bahnaman worked with students at the elementary, middle school and high school level when he did his practicum and said he preferred working with the elementary students.
“I really feel I can make a difference here,” he said.
Bahnaman lives in Waupaca, and his interests include music – he plays guitar and mandolin, and used to be part of a duo that played bluegrass and folk music – and watching classic and foreign films, and television series.
His parents, Rich and Bette Bahnaman, influenced his decision to work in education.
His father is also a school counselor, and his mother is a teacher’s aide for Head Start.
Bahnaman says this school year is involving growth and change for him.
“Being in this position, it really validates what I thought school counseling would be,” he said. “It validates my passion for making a difference in kids’ lives.”