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    • Fasano shows the results of her annual "cake test," based on The Hours, with her American Literature class.

    • Fasano and former classmate Dorothy Robinson at the DPH Reunion last year.

Donna Fasano Moves on from The Hill After 42 Years

Helena Lyng-Olsen '18, Editor-in-Chief Emeritus
When Donna Fasano retires from Hopkins this June, she will end an era that has spanned her forty-two years teaching English at Hopkins. 
While many students know Fasano from her friendly presence, her care for her students, and her writing assignments that turn mere children into scholars, she has also witnessed and played a part in nearly the entire development of the coeducational Hopkins School, from its frst years as a merged school to its present state. She is the last faculty member remaining who was a part of Day Prospect Hill (DPH).

Fasano grew up in New Haven, CT, and in 1964 entered DPH, a girls school on Prospect Street that merged with Hopkins Grammar School in 1972, eventually becoming Hopkins School. Entering the ninth grade from her public middle school, where she had been both class president and valedictorian, Fasano was initially surprised, and then greatly infuenced by her rigorous high school flled with academic girls and inspirational women teachers at a time when many fewer opportunities were available for women. She thrived at DPH and then went on to Wheaton College, where she majored in English after nearly majoring
in math; Betty Benedict, her math teacher at DPH, had been her idol and was her mentor in later years. 

After graduating from Wheaton College, Fasano spent a year working in Wheaton’s campus library while her husband finished law school. The pair then spent a year living in New London while she had a fellowship in English at Connecticut College. Afterwards, the Fasanos moved to New Haven, where she worked as a substitute teacher in New Haven and Hamden public schools because, “I wanted to see what the environment in all the schools was like before choosing to settle down in one.”

In March, 1976, she decided to check out Hopkins on a whim. Initially, she had not wanted to teach in a private school because she had learned in college to love the open classroom style, with students from multiple grades coexisting in one room. Her visit to Hopkins changed her mind: “When all my old teachers saw me, they tried to persuade me to come back. There were no job openings at the time, but they created a job just for me. I taught English and worked in the library in order to be full time. Eventually, it took about two years for a full-time position to open in the English Department.”

Fasano described her initial experiences: “My frst few years as a new, young, female teacher at Hopkins were difficult because it was a male-centric environment. I was essentially the first young woman on the faculty, and many of the older teachers had never worked with women before.” The merged girls and boys schools were still trying to conjoin their separate identities at the time of Fasano’s arrival. Fasano remembered being both humbled and in awe of older teachers in her department: “Veterans teachers like Peter Wells, Charlie Welles, Toni Giamatti, Heidi Dawidoff, and Sue Feinberg were very outspoken in faculty meetings. I hardly said a word. These were amazing, amazing teachers. I had nothing to add or to say, except to venerate them. I was soaking in every word they said.”

Fasano’s earlier years were also diffcult because, as she was the frst female faculty member on campus to have a child, there was no maternity leave policy in place. When she had her frst son, Michael ’98, in 1980, she recalled, “I was grading papers while I was in labor!” She had three more sons - Matthew ’01 in 1983, Timmy ’06 in 1987, and Christopher in 1992. “Those were diffcult years, when I was trying to be the best at both of my jobs, as a teacher and as a mother. It was important to me to be a complete professional; I never wanted my personal life to interfere with my teaching. Every day I would get up at four A.M., grade papers from four to six, then get my kids ready for school or daycare. In the evenings, I went to graduate school, working on my M.A.L.S. at Wesleyan. I became extremely disciplined - laser-focused - because of it.”

Meanwhile, Fasano established herself as a strong teacher and member of the English Department, helping to set standards that affect Hopkins English students to this day. She was one of the co-designers of the eleventh-grade Writing Semester course: Fasano also later founded the popular Current American Fiction. She described it as a “class for students to re-discover their love of reading.”

Fasano’s said that her favorite part of Hopkins has been teaching the seventh grade. “All these kids are new, and I get to bring them into the Hopkins standards and life." She popularized Oliver Twist’s “Please sir, may I have some more,” and had students memorize a long list of prepositions that they had to recite in record time to receive unlimited access to her drawer of lollipops. These projects were paired with writing assignments, typically a short essay every night.

Students noted that access to Fasano’s candy drawer served as both a reward for enduring her class and an opportunity to reconnect with her on a regular basis. “I am thankful for the small conversations I have with Ms. Fasano while I got my access,” wrote Lauren Sklarz ’22. 

Maisie Billison ’22 recalled one tranquil moment from seventh grade: “Ms. Fasano once gestured out the window, saying, “I always like to read The Secret Garden at this time of year because the changes in the book refect the changes outside. Look.” We all looked outside. We were perfectly quiet then; she’d made us stop, look around, appreciate the little things in life.”

“I have never felt so at home in a classroom, so at peace, so content. We came into her class as students; we leave as writers,” said Katrina Tiktinsky ‘18, currently in her Current American Fiction class. 

“I’ll never forget the warmness and enthusiasm Ms. Fasano brought to our classes when I was just a little J-schooler coming into a new challenging environment,” said Javier Muleiro ‘20. “Not only did she develop me as a writer immeasurably, but she made me develop so much as a person, and I can’t thank her enough.” 

Several of Fasano’s colleagues praised her presence and ideals inside and outside the classroom: Art Department teacher Peter Ziou said, “What she loves is sharing her knowledge of writing and books and having the students fnd a creative power. She expects the best out of them.” “By her abiding gift for reading and writing, Donna sustained my enthusiasm; by her abiding concern for her students, she reminded me to care for what matters,” said Chris Jacox, a fellow English teacher. 

“When I taught in her old classroom, I would bump my head on all the memorabilia dangling from the ceiling. But you have to respect the care,” said Ian Melchinger ’88, Fasano’s colleague in the English Department and former student of hers.

Kai Bynum, Head of School, noted: “Her passion for teaching our kids, her appreciation for hard work, and her sagely stewardship of writing have made Hopkins a better place.” 

Fasano has worked with thousands of students and colleagues: “Work life was always soothing to me. I loved the work, the rhythm of each day at school. I have never wanted to do anything other than be a teacher at Hopkins, not an administrator, or a department chair, or a head advisor; the one part of being in school that I have loved the most is the teaching. I have loved teaching. I have loved writing comments, because I love to write the stories of kids that I taught, to tell them what I’ve seen in the classroom. I have loved the kids most of all; they bring me such joy.”
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