Surprise Squad honors Westfield elementary school teacher

As summer break comes to an end and classes head back into session, one teacher at Highland Elementary School in Westfield got the surprise of a lifetime.
Updated: Sep. 20, 2023 at 4:30 PM EDT
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WESTFIELD, MA (WGGB/WSHM) - As summer break comes to an end and classes head back into session, one teacher at Highland Elementary School in Westfield got the surprise of a lifetime when the Hyundai dealers are back this month to celebrate an educator whose light shines as bright as a diamond.

“We have a great staff overall, but there is always some staff that are shining stars and Miss Diamond has gone above and beyond and for her students and teachers as if they’re her own,” said Highland Elementary School Principal Jill Phelan.

“…She epitomizes what good teachers in this district are all about,” added Westfield School Committee Vice Chair Bo Sullivan.

[Reporter: What was it like having her as a teacher?]

“It was fun to have her,” said student Boaz Jones.

With all the praise in the world, that only meant one thing. It’s time for the Western Mass. Hyundai Dealers to give Ms. Olivia Diamond, the kindergarten teacher at Highland Elementary School, the surprise of a lifetime…

“On behalf of the Western Mass. Hyundai Dealers, we want to recognize you for all that you do and we know that you were extra special and making sure that everyone was extra safe, spending your own money during the pandemic and you’re like it and you’re like a diamond and we wanna congratulate you and recognize you for being so special. We want to give you $500 to spend any way you want,” said Gary Rome, president of Gary Rome Hyundai.

“…And we have $500 that we are going to donate to the school under your name,” said Mike Paquette, general sales manager of Country Hyundai.

“We do spend a lot of our own money, so this is very nice. Thank you so much,” Diamond said.

The surprises did not end there. Diamond’s aunt, Lisa Killips, nominated Diamond for the Surprise Squad, but since she couldn’t be there in person, we shared this video with her.

“You provide a classroom that is warm and inviting, ensuring they have all the materials that you need through the school system through your own funding, as well as engaging in grant funded activities. I hope that your prize helps you through the school year,” Killips said.

Diamond told us her teaching career was a happy accident.

“It’s actually a funny story. I used to play softball in high school and I actually didn’t want to play my senior year, so I took a job at the YMCA in Granby, CT. I fell in love with teaching and everything I did there made me realize I want to become a teacher,” Diamond added.

It’s something Sullivan told us is a win-win for the community.

“I have a great connection with the Boys and Girls Club in town, to a lot of our employees. A lot of the kids that we work with go onto teaching, which is great, which is exactly what we want this community to do,” Sullivan explained.

However, it has not always been smooth sailing for Diamond, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I started my student teaching right when COVID hit, so I did a little bit in-person and I was also learning with all the other teachers who do it online,” Diamond explained.

While the world was adjusting to the COVID-19 pandemic, Diamond managed to finish her master’s degree in teaching.

“Being there in the moment, learning besides everyone else helped me learn all the online and technical stuff and then the following year,” Diamond noted.

It certainly paid off, especially for everyone at Highland Elementary.

“She makes their first school experience here in Highland, amazing…We’re just thankful she’s part of our team,” Phelan said.

The Hyundai dealers said the celebration is well-deserved.

“How exciting (it must be) to teach kindergartners every day…You got to be on your game with these kids as far as they are so excited to come in every day and have like you said, these parents request her as a teacher and that shows what she’s doing every day is fantastic,” said Brian Houser, general manager of Balise Hyundai.

“It’s very awesome to celebrate her and see how dedicated she is to the kids to have the parents come back looking for her. It’s been just a great day to celebrate her,” Paquette added.

Diamond told Western Mass News why teaching the young students is so important to her.

“I love that they come in and have their first school experience. I get to welcome them to the school and make sure they love school going forward,” Diamond said.

The students told us the feeling is mutual.

“She did fun activities with us and she was very sweet,” Jones added.

(Sponsored by the Western Mass. Hyundai Dealers)