One interaction can spark something in a person that can pave a pathway even as early as middle school, Matt Schurman said.

For him, more than one person contributed to his path to becoming one of Ottawa Middle School’s counselors.

“As I’ve gotten older, I’ve been able to piece back major events that have put me on this path,” Schurman said. “It was actually my middle school counselor’s student aid. His name was Mr. Smith in Spring Hill. This was kind of the initial spark with working with people. ...I saw what he did and I remember it just being the coolest job in the world.”

Schurman, 37, from Spring Hill, is assigned to the sixth graders as well as half of the seventh grade. He also coaches eighth grade basketball and eighth grade football, and oversees the group, Bystanders Over Bullies.

“I never have a day where I wake up and say I don’t want to go to work,” he said.

During his senior year at Ottawa University as a human services major, Schurman started working full-time at the Elizabeth Layton Center.

“It allowed me to grow as a social worker,” Schurman said. “I was 20 when I started working there. I thought I was going to work at ELC for the rest of my life.”

In 15 years, his title changed from group leader to case manager, until he earned his master’s degree from the University of Kansas and started working as a therapist and on-call specialist.

The higher level of education set him up for a position at Ottawa Middle School about two years ago. Even though he said he misses the unexpectedness and rawness of mental health, elements are incorporated into his work at the school.

He considers sixth grade to be one of the most challenging years in middle school because it’s a transitional year, he said.

The popularity ladder is steep, new hormones activate and academics get a little more difficult, he said.

“You’re just kind of putting every fifth grade class into a bowl and seeing how they work out,” Schurman said.

In middle school in Spring Hill, he started dating a girl named Amanda who would years later become his wife. Together, they have two daughters — Joey, 10 and Charlie, 5 — who both attend Garfield Elementary School.

As a family, they visit the park, go on walks and take trips to a family lakehouse in the Ozarks or shopping on Massachusetts Streets in Lawrence.

Schurman, a Jayhawk fan, played on OU’s basketball team and credits his participation to his height at 6 feet 7 inches. He said he still plays on intramural teams through the Ottawa Recreation Commission.

The network of people in Ottawa has brought him in contact with great friends and co-workers, he said. Schurman looks to his parents, who first showed him the rewards of mentorships, community involvement and family gatherings.

“The importance of people was always celebrated,” he said.

Amelia Arvesen is a Herald staff writer. Email her at aarvesen@ottawaherald.com. Follow her on Twitter at @AmeliaArvesen.