Hopkin retires after 31-year teaching career

Patti Carpenter

Kirk Hopkin retired at the end of the school year after a long, successful career working with special needs students at all grade levels in Big
Horn County School District No. 1.  
Hopkin attended school while serving in the U.S. Air Force, working toward earning both his teaching degree and a certificate in special education. With one year of education left to complete following his honorable discharge from the military, he finished his education and began his teaching career at Big Horn County School District No. 1.
Hopkin has been with the district the entire 31 years of his teaching career. He began working in 1993 as a second-grade teacher in Byron. After a few years of teaching, he joined the Wyoming National Guard. He continued teaching second grade for 12 years until he was deployed to Iraq by the guard for 14 months.
“When I came back, the school year was almost over,” he explained. “Someone else was teaching my class, so I taught kindergarten in Frannie.”
The school year was nearly over, so he only taught kindergarten for one month.
The following year Hopkin joined the staff of a brand new elementary school that had just been built in Cowley. At Rocky Mountain Elementary School, he taught fourth grade for three years, then special education at the elementary school for nine years. He then taught middle school special education for three years, then high school special education for three years. In his final years of teaching he taught the life skills special education class at the middle and high school level. In this capacity, he worked very closely with a small number of special needs students at one time, working with some students for up to six years. He said he found it very rewarding to work so closely with students creating highly individualized programs to address each student’s set of special needs.
“The class prepares kids for occupations and for taking care of themselves,” explained Hopkin. “The focus is a little bit different. The idea is to help them get a job and to teach them to take care of themselves.”
Hopkin’s students hold jobs in the community like assisting with delivery of meals for the North Big Horn Senior Citizens Center, helping serve lunch at the schools and working at the local supermarket. Two of the girls in his program have set up their own business selling eggs. The idea is to not only teach the students the skills to do a job but to also instill the confidence to do it.
Hopkin also taught students safety skills related to everyday tasks like cooking and cleaning.
“They learn what’s hot, what’s sharp and other important skills,” he said. “For some, even walking through an intersection safely is a skill they need to learn.”
He also helped students develop their social interaction skills.
“Interacting directly with the community helps them develop these skills,” he said.
He said they are also taught to manage the money they earn and to balance a checkbook.
Hopkin and his wife, Angela, have raised five children of their own. He said he has been ranching with one of his sons for about a year and plans to continue helping.
“There’s no money in it, but it’s something I like to do,” he said. “We’ve got a lot to learn. Last year was our first year, and we went in the hole quite a bit. We’re not experts yet. I was raised around cattle, but I never got to do much of that work. My son and I bought a few cows and leased some land and decided to do some farming and ranching together.”
Hopkin has farming and ranching in his blood. He was raised in the country and has farmers and ranchers in his lineage on both sides of his family.
Hopkin said he enjoys working hard, making his own decisions and doesn’t mind being alone sometimes. Most of all he enjoys being outdoors, even if it means chasing cows that got out or calving in minus 20-degree weather.
During his youth, he learned many colorful stories about his ancestors on both sides of his family, like the time his great-grandfather’s horses got stolen by the infamous hole-in-the-wall gang in the early 1900s and the time his great-grandfather made leather shoes for his cows to protect their feet during a long cattle drive from Utah to Wyoming.
In addition to running cattle, he and his wife have some side-by-side adventures planned.
He said he will miss his students and their families and will especially miss the close relationships he formed with his colleagues.
“The principals and superintendents have all been very supportive of what we’re trying to do here,” said Hopkin. “They’ve made it very easy for me to do this work. We have our own vehicle to transport the kids and access to another vehicle with a wheelchair lift, and they have given our program lots of support in many ways. I like the staff around here, too. They are very good people, and I will miss them a lot.”
He said he looks forward to ranch work, but his plans aren’t too ambitious.
“I just wanted something to keep me busy,” he said. “My son has bigger ideas, though, and keeps finding more stuff for us to do.”