Longtime Hope educator and Fraser Cascade school board trustee John Koopman passed away May 6.
Since his sudden passing, tributes have been streaming in from the hundreds upon hundreds of students he taught during his three decades as a teacher in the school district. With a Bachelor of Education from the University of Victoria, Koopman had a hand in inspiring students as a social studies and English teacher at Hope Secondary. He also taught at both of Hope’s elementary schools, as well as Hope’s alternate program and Yale elementary.
After his retirement he continued to lead the school district as a trustee on the SD78 school board, as one of three trustees representing Hope and Silver Creek area schools.
Of those who met Koopman and talked education with him, few would disagree that he had a passion for the stuff. Superintendent Karen Nelson, who met Koopman 29 years ago when he came to SD78, said she was blown away by his passion for all students. She remarked that she always thought it was he who invented ‘personalized learning.’
Fellow school board trustee and board chair Ron Johnstone said Koopman had a way to instantly bond with children and find a way to connect especially with the students who might be at risk of falling through the cracks, of not graduating.
“He was always kind of scanning for those kids and trying to…have those conversations with them,’” Johnstone said.
One example Johnstone shared was of a young person who was looking into a career in firefighting – immediately she was referred over to Ron as he’d spent his career at the Burnaby Fire Department.
“That was John, he was just always trying to put people together that could help other people…I think that was kind of his life’s mission, knowingly or unknowingly. He was just doing it all the time,” he remembered.
“He was in his element” when speaking with children Johnstone said, asking questions about their interests, their imagination and plans for post-high school life. “Hopefully, by starting this thought process earlier in life – more students will stay actively engaged and excited with what they are learning in school,” he wrote ahead of the 2018 school board election, which he ran in and kept his seat. “Hopefully, this will result in improved student achievement.”
An advocate for trades and apprenticeship programs in schools, Koopman was passionate about enhancing Hope Secondary School’s welding program, as well as partnerships the district was forging with several trade schools and programs where students can try-a-trade or visit a trade school. He also set up Boston Bar Elementary Secondary School’s shop program.
A highlight for Koopman, said Nelson, was attending the Hope Secondary welding program graduation where students obtained their Level C welding certificates. “He was so pleased that we were able to provide students with the opportunity to a brighter future,” she said. “He often commented that he wished he would have had a chance to complete a trades program while he was in secondary school.”
To recognize this passion Koopman had, Johnstone announced the creation of a bursary of no less than $1,000 for a student or students pursuing post-secondary training in trades. The bursary is being created from the donations of board members and district senior administrative staff.
There was also a lot of fun involved in his teaching, fun which extended to the Grade 4 class at Coquihalla setting off ‘rockets’ in the parking lot. (More about this from friend and fellow prankster Barry Stewart on A6)
Celebration of life stretches around the neighbourhood
After hearing of his passing, many former students shared their sadness at the news and their memories of him. Desiree Baker, whom he taught in high school, said her was “an amazing teacher…funny, caring, kind, and always there if we needed him.”
What an impact he made over 30 years of teaching could hardly be overstated at a celebration of life held Monday, where in adherence to pandemic restrictions cars wrapped themselves around the block before taking off in a car parade past Koopman’s family waiting at the entrance to Coquihalla school.
Fifteen minutes into the parade and the cars just kept coming, with the orange glow of warning lights flashing.
“It’s true!” one person exclaimed as she pointed to a handmade sign bearing a space rocket and the words “John Koopman helped launch our kids.” Each person brought along their own memory of the man who taught decades of Hope’s children.
‘Making a difference for kids,’
As a trustee, Koopman installed a bulletin board in the room where the school board held its meetings. He often referenced the board and the title that ran along it – “making a difference for kids’ – where stories about the schools would be pinned.
“I believe the title of the bulletin board…is what John devoted his life to as a teacher, parent, trustee and community member,” Nelson said.
Johnstone also gave a nod to the bulletin board title when referencing the ‘massive amount of time and energy’ Koopman spent on ensuring there were opportunities for all students.
Koopman served his first full term as trustee during a turbulent four years on the school board, from 2014 to 2018, during which time a fellow trustee was censured by the board and later declined to seek re-election. He was also involved in overseeing the implementation of the SOGI 123 resource in Fraser Cascade schools.
As Johnstone put it, Koopman never shied away from making tough decisions such as those the board faced during this first term. He was midway through his second term on the board at the time of his passing.
Koopman’s passing follows on tragedies in the SD78 education community
Sandra Loring passed away after experiencing an unexpected medical emergency during a flight home from a school trip in March 2019. She had served as secretary for Coquihalla Elementary School for nearly 30 years.