She Awoke to a New Life

From the New Haven Independent:

“Donna! How’s this?” asked a senior fiddling with the opacity meter on Adobe Photoshop. He figured it out on the second try—far more quickly than his teacher figured it out after she had emerged from a three-year slumber unable to walk, talk or move.

The teacher, Donna Frederick-Neznek, who’s 62, guided students through Photoshop one recent day at High School in the Community (HSC), a teacher-led magnet school on Water Street.

She learned the computer program through brute persistence, studying each component over and over as she recovered from a brain injury that sent her into a three-year deep sleep. Now she’s teaching her students that same unflagging, no-excuses approach to learning in the art room at New Haven’snewest turnaround school. She learned how to learn again as an adult with a second lease on life. Now she’s applying those lessons to teaching high-schoolers, including special-needs students, how to learn.

How to learn Photoshop, for instance. Which took her 12 workshops to master.

The other day Frederick-Neznek began second period in the computer lab, switching on an overhead projector to lead kids through the latest chapter in Photoshop.

“OK, everybody, open up your in-file,” she directed. “What you are going to do today—what you are going to love!—is to get to know the layers.”

As she led them through a lesson on overlaying graphics, a senior named Matt raised his hand to ask how to change the opacity of one of the images. She pointed him in the right direction.

“I don’t want to tell you how to do it. You figure it out yourself,” she replied.

He consulted a worksheet and found the button to call up the opacity-meter.

Then he asked Frederick-Neznek how he was doing. She nodded at his quick apprehension of the new skill.

“Play with it. Have fun,” she urged.

Frederick-Neznek’s own path to mastering Photoshop, and to the classroom, came through a far longer, more arduous, odds-defying route.

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