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DAAPIC Column: Jane Miyahara

Meet Jane Miyahara

Denver Asian American Pacific Islander Commissioner and Early Childhood Special Education - Support Partner at Denver Public Schools

Jane Miyahara (middle) at a “Cabinet in the Community” event last year with commissioner Farman Pirzada (left) and Derek Okubo (right), Executive Director of Denver’s Agency for Human Rights and Community Partnerships.

How do you identify yourself? Well, the easiest way to answer this question, is that I’m an Island Girl. I often get the question, “What are you?” because of my features. I’ve always been different and looked different from the Japanese Americans I was raised with. I’m not sure exactly what my ethnicity is but when I lived in Hawaii, while attending the University of Hawaii at Hilo, it was there that I’ve felt most “at home.”

What I do know is that my birth parents are from Hawaii, on the island of Oahu. My birth mom, Amy is from Liliha and my birth father, John is from Palama. I was born in San Francisco and raised in Denver, by my adopted parents, Ben and Flo Miyahara.

My parents (Ben and Flo) were very active in Simpson United Methodist, the church I was raised in. Ben and Flo had great influence on who I am today. My father was a man of few words, but a huge heart and would do anything for anyone. I strive to be more like him daily. My mother was a woman of many words and taught me independence, self-reliance and a bit of feistiness.

My mom was on the Asian Advisory Commission under Mayor Webb. She was very proud of the work she did which made me want to be a part of this work. What do you do for the Denver Public Schools? I attended Denver Public Schools since kindergarten and am a proud graduate of Thomas Jefferson High School, which makes me very proud to work for DPS. I’m a Senior Manager for Preschool Supports in the area of Special Education.

There are two areas of my work, assessment and programming. Child Find is a system to identify children suspected of having a delay in development. I oversee the Child Find system and support this amazing staff. I also support the different types of early childhood programming for preschoolers who are identified with special needs. We have 90 schools across the city, plus community sites, that have early childhood classrooms. Most of these classroom are inclusive, which means that most have students that have been identified with needs. I work with an incredible team of people who are dedicated to our work with children and families. How has your job changed as the reality of COVID-19 has settled on Denver and Colorado? Things have moved quickly. I work with an amazing core team of Senior Managers who have worked together from the beginning to start planning for remote learning for our students. Our leader, the Special Education Director, has connected with us daily to make plans for remote learning. Working from home is challenging, especially with all of the Zoom meetings, but that is our reality now. I actually think that I work harder, without all of the interruptions. I’m able to focus on projects and planning for the days to come. What are parents and children feeling? Several parents have kept in touch with me during this time. Naturally, they have a lot of concerns about their children, how to support them and how services will be met, given the current situation. After the first week, we have seen a rise in anxiety. It’s hard to imagine this sudden change in lifestyle for a typically developing student, having to stay at home and receive instruction. But think about having a student with autism or perhaps a severe physical disability, where the parent depends on the school district to support with various therapies.

It’s difficult to figure this out, when a big part of their support system and the routine is gone. Most of the parents I’ve interacted with are reacting out of fear of the unknown, as we all are. We are working around the clock to think of effective ways to support students and families. I try my best to support these parents, not feed into the fear yet share with them honestly where we are right now in terms of planning.

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