Washington School for the Deaf’s Dana Miles has been named 2022 Regional Teacher of the Year by ESD 112. Miles is a bilingual high school English Language Arts (ELA) and Work Experience teacher, focusing on teaching in both American Sign Language (ASL) and English.

“Mrs. Miles is an amazing educator… Over the past six years as Mrs. Miles’ Principal, I have observed her passion and motivation for working with students. Her work ethic is unparalleled,” wrote Jason Cox, Secondary Principal for Washington School for the Deaf, in a letter of recommendation. “Mrs. Miles invests in her students and takes the time to build a sense of community in her learning environment… She is loved by her students because she acknowledges their individuality and purposefully addresses their needs.”

With 10 years of teaching experience, Miles was inspired by her mother’s own experiences as an educator who worked to overcome hardships associated with the lack of early access to education as a young Deaf person.

As a Deaf educator teaching and providing life skills to her high school students at Washington School for the Deaf, Miles is focused on the issue of language deprivation, which results when a child grows up with no firm foundation in either ASL or English. When children miss out on the critical period of language exposure during the vital years of language acquisition, it can cause Deaf children to fall behind in all areas of learning and education. This is preventable, says Miles.

“I am fortunate that I am a living testimony of the success that Deaf children can have when given proper exposure to language at birth,” Miles explained. “To ensure that they don’t lose out on the critical period of language acquisition, they need access to language at birth. ASL can then become a bridge for our Deaf children to learn English.”

Three of Miles’ colleagues nominated Miles for the award based on the passion, creativity, and determination that she’s shown in every aspect of her role as both an ELA and Work Experience teacher.

“Dana treats students with additional disabilities with respect and ensures that the instruction is meaningful, realistic, and relevant,” Miles’ colleagues wrote in their nomination form. “Students and staff know she truly cares about them and will go to bat for them.”

“Whenever I can, I like to tell stories as I teach. I share stories of how I have known Deaf people, including my Deaf parents and myself, struggle in all ways of life and how they overcome them,” says Miles. “By sharing stories, the students learn how to apply strategies to succeed in life, and it helps me to connect with my students on a deeper level, creating a trusting, safe learning environment.”

Through the Work Experience program, students have been able to better prepare for their future using resources that are specifically designed for them. Miles has worked with local Vancouver businesses such as Paper Tiger Coffee Roasters, Vancouver City Hall Court House, Habitat for Humanity, and others who have been willing to work with Deaf children, including those working on improving their English skills. Recently, a local Target store’s Human Resources manager reached out to see about recruiting Work Experience students at their location, and after working through potential hurdles with the help of the Washington Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI), ESD 112, and local high schools, they were able to support work for the students at Target.

This ties into Miles’ main message she hopes to impart, as this year’s Regional Teacher of the Year.

“My message for the community is to look beyond the disability,” Miles said. “We, the Deaf people, don’t see ourselves as disabled. We are proud of being Deaf… listen closely with your eyes, and you’ll see what we can achieve as Deaf individuals and as a community. Celebrate our identity as Deaf people with us by allowing our hands to speak for us.”

As Regional Teacher of the Year, Miles will have access to unique professional development opportunities from OSPI, as well as opportunities to speak to local and statewide education leaders about issues important to her and her students. She will be presented with a plaque commemorating her award later this year at an ESD 112 board meeting.

The Washington State Teacher of the Year will be selected in September during the annual award ceremony. For more information, visit https://www.k12.wa.us/educator-support/awards-recognition/educator-awards/teacher-year.