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Max Hansen and his puppet sidekick Gordon have been reaching out to students together for much of his career as a school counselor. He is retiring after 37 years with the Hudson School District. (Submitted photo)

Elementary counselor Max Hansen guided students and families for 37 years

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He isn’t exactly sure he wanted to do it, but nonetheless Max Hansen is retiring in June after 37 years with the Hudson School District.

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He is ambivalent about leaving because he loves his work.

Hansen began his career teaching third and fourth grade at Houlton Elementary. He was in the classroom for 11 years before earning a master’s degree in school counseling. He has been a counselor at Fourth Street School, Houlton, spending 15 years as the school counselor at North Hudson Elementary before joining the staff at the new Hudson Prairie Elementary in 1998.

Prairie Principal Susie Prather described Hansen humble, fun loving, strong-willed, and passionate about doing whatever it takes for his students.

Hansen said Hudson schools have been ahead of the curve when it comes to incorporating his work as a counselor into the everyday work of students in and out of the classroom. He credits former student services director Nancy Sweet with seeing the value of putting counselors in the classroom to help students navigate socially and emotionally as well as academically.

Hansen said the role of school counselors in Hudson, particularly at the elementary level, has evolved in recent years. In collaboration with teachers, counselors take a larger role in developing a school culture that is inclusive, respectful and teaches students the kind of behavior that is expected of them, not just at the beginning of a year but re-teaching and reinforcing those behaviors throughout the year.

Hansen said his role as counselor is to be “a safe person” for students, someone they get to know and trust as they grow through their elementary experience and who is there to help them resolve their problems.

Hansen doesn’t believe that students have changed much over the more than three and a half decades of his career. He says there are more societal changes that cause children to age quicker.

“And there’s more of a family disconnect because of technology. A family can be sitting down right next to each other but not connecting because they are on their phones or tablets or something else. I think that is something all families should consider and try to change if they can.”

Hansen says connecting with their children is the single most effective thing parents can do. “Being there for your kids is so important. It is hard I know to go to things when you are working and so busy but as parents we have to do it because it is important to them. They need to know that what matters to them matters to you.”

Hansen has made a point of being there for parents as well as for their children. He describes the high points of his career not in terms of events but about those times when parents came in and asked for help, attend his popular parenting classes or when he could offer support to fellow staff members.

“There is so much pressure on all of us to perform and meet expectations. That can cause a lot of anxiety and it is nice to give people someone to talk to about all that.”

Hansen’s performance and reputation as someone who is very good at his job earned him the distinction of being named 2013 Wisconsin School Counselor of the Year. The award gave the staff and students the rare opportunity of surprising Hansen for a change.

As he prepares to move onto to the next phase of his life, Hansen does have some advice for the people he has cared most about over the last 37 years – students, parents and colleagues.

To students, he says to “pick good friends,” especially in elementary and middle school. “It’s a time of uncertainty and what friends do and how they treat one another – that’s something important to learn early on.”

As for parents, first off he says, “love your spouse….and be interested and present in your kids’ lives – whatever that might entail. Being involved with their lives on a daily basis can make all the difference, especially when they face challenges along the way.”

And when it comes to counselors who find themselves in the Hudson School District, Hansen says to “appreciate where you have landed if you are lucky enough to work here. And build bridges with parents, the staff you work with and your principal. It all pays off.”

“What I love about being an elementary counselor is the longevity it gives you. You are with children and their families for six years. You get to know them, not just in a crisis but by seeing them at concerts, at conferences, just walking down the halls. It is a lifelong connection that I have thoroughly enjoyed.”

Hansen said he isn’t sure his job hunt is over. He will continue to build custom cedar strip canoes with his partners in St. Croix Canoes. He has also become certified as a Red Cross mental health worker to assist children and families during disasters. “We will just see what comes.”

At the recent staff recognition dinner, Prather shared what a student wrote about Hansen’s retirement—“I don’t want him to go.” It is a sentiment shared by many, maybe even Hansen himself.

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Meg Heaton
Meg Heaton has been a reporter with the Hudson Star Observer since 1990. She has a bachelor’s degree in anthropology and Native American Studies from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire.
(715) 808-8604
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