Lake Country Faces: Pine River-Backus dean of students earned her degree amidst busy family life
Gina Bauman shows how far determination can get you.
There are many new staff members at Pine River-Backus School for the 2021-2022 school year, including Dean of Students Gina Bauman, who shows just how much one person can do while juggling a busy home life.
Bauman is from Winsted, Minnesota, where she attended the private Catholic school. She lived close enough to walk to school every day, and said the school didn't have buses to transport students.
" It's our job to be educators, but not just academically. It's getting them ready to move into the real world and logical consequences. Like, if you make a mess in the lunchroom, if you throw your food, guess what, you're cleaning the lunch room today"
— Gina Bauman.
She played volleyball and basketball, saying her class was so small at 12 students that they couldn't afford not to be friends with everyone.
"You had to like them all, otherwise you weren't going to have any friends," Bauman said.
She hit the ground running early, and by the time she moved to Pine River at age 19, where her mother and stepfather had relocated, she already had a wonderful daughter.
"Being a single mom and a teenager, I thought I had to come up here," Bauman said. "I needed a fresh start and I just fell in love with it."
She admits falling in love with a new town wasn't instantaneous, primarily because her new life up north meant making new friends.
" There's never enough time to get your stuff done. You have work, family, our own self and you throw in other things like college work on top of that and you have to prioritizing what's important."
— Gina Bauman.
"I planted some roots and I started meeting people," Bauman said. "My daughter had an amazing day care. She was making friends and then she started going to school and it was game over."
Bauman was hooked on the community, and that was that. She worked a couple of different jobs at first, serving at a restaurant and doing front desk work for an electric company. When her daughter started school, she saw the chance to have a change of pace, so she became a paraprofessional at Pine River-Backus School.
Between work and family life, like something out of a romance flick, Bauman reconnected with someone she had met a long time ago.
"When I was younger, my family had a cabin in Hackensack," she said. "My husband's a year older than I am and I was probably 14 when we had the cabin. I remember walking into town to Swanson's and he worked there. Sometimes I joke with him that I've seen him since he was 15 or 16 years old."
" My husband's a year older than I am and I was probably 14 when we had the cabin. i remember walking into town to Swanson's and he worked there. Sometimes I joke with him that I've seen him since he was 15 or 16 years old. "
— Gina Bauman.
She wasn't necessarily looking to date, but they had reconnected and after months finally hit it off.
More was yet to come. While working as a paraprofessional at PR-B School, a coworker gave Bauman another bright idea.
"A staff member asked if I ever thought about being a teacher," Bauman said. "I told my husband in June that I might start school and then I started in August."
It wasn't the first time Bauman had ever considered going to school for a degree in education; but as is common, life made that complicated.
"I've always wanted to be in education," Bauman said. "But having a kid so young, I didn't have that chance to go to college at that point."
Shifting gears wasn't easy either. At first she felt like life was finally starting to be smooth sailing. She had a blended family with five kids and a husband, and the idea of adding classes to the mix wasn't entirely appealing. But, she said, to keep bettering oneself requires constant learning.
Bauman took elementary education classes through Bemidji State University online. There were challenges, including seeing younger classmates taking the same classes. But the biggest challenge was time constraints.
"The most challenging thing was not having enough time," Bauman said. "There's never enough time to get your stuff done. You have work, family, your own self and you throw in other things like college work on top of that and you have to prioritize what's important."
Her support structure was vital, especially her family. Her mom and stepdad were still living in the area at the time. They could help with child care and cooking, or even self care. In the end, it all paid off.
At first, Bauman taught as a substitute for a couple years, then was hired as an interventionist for grades five and six in math and reading, then for grades seven and eight. She never had the position of dean of students in mind; however, last year the school was looking for an interim dean and asked her to take it over.
She liked it enough that when the job posted for the full-time position, Bauman applied yet again and was hired.
"I like this position because I'm able to work with all the kids," Bauman said. "I might not be teaching them curriculum, but I'm teaching them other skills."
She enjoys preventing misbehavior and slides in performance rather than reacting to it. When necessary, she focuses on "restorative practice," which involves seeking out the source of behavioral or academic issues and resolving them so that students may return to class and a productive work day.
Her job is also about teaching consequences rather than just punishing.
"It's our job to be educators, but not just academically," Bauman said. "It's getting them ready to move into the real world and logical consequences. Like, if you make a mess in the lunchroom, if you throw your food - guess what? You're cleaning the lunchroom today, you know, things like that. It requires a lot of thinking outside the box, and depending on the situation the student outcome is going to be different."
Bauman is always working to improve how she works with students and staff as well. She's started taking classes for a master's degree in educational administration through Grand Canyon University, a decision once again inspired by a coworker. It's not that she has her eye on any other positions, so much that she thinks she will be able to work better alongside her coworkers.
"When I'm sitting in on meetings discussing different things, I feel like I could do a better job in this position if I were more educated," Bauman said. "In order to be successful you have to keep learning, because life is changing and nobody can take away your education."
Travis Grimler is a staff writer for the Pineandlakes Echo Journal weekly newspaper in Pequot Lakes/Pine River. He may be reached at 218-855-5853 or firstname.lastname@example.org.