Michele VanNieuwenhuyzen didn’t take Speech and Debate in high school, but her sister did. Still, she admired the course’s teacher at the time, and said she did learn one thing from him — in the Speech and Debate world, becoming a Diamond coach was a big deal.
Fast forward to 2019, and VanNieuwenhuyzen is in her 10th year as Turlock High School’s Speech and Debate coach, overseeing a team of 80 students — and doing so successfully. It’s safe to say that VanNieuwenhuyzen has definitely achieved “big deal” status, receiving not her first, but second Diamond Award, announced this week by the National Speech & Debate Association.
VanNieuwenhuyzen has worn several hats at THS, including Yearbook instructor in the past and, currently, Drama teacher along with Speech and Debate. Teaching multiple subjects has allowed her to tap into different sides of herself, she said, and being in charge of both classes allows her more flexibility, allowing students who are interested in taking both courses to do so.
“As the Drama teacher and Speech coach, it feeds both sides of me,” she said. “The creative side and the other, competitive side.”
When it comes to teaching styles, VanNieuwenhuyzen uses a more collaborative approach to oversee nearly 100 kids, trusting more advanced students, referred to as “captains,” to take beginners into their competition event groups and help them learn the ropes.
Throughout the school year, the team has participated in one tournament a month. Eleven students have qualified to go to the state competition in Long Beach this May, and two students have qualified to compete at the national competition in Dallas, Texas this June, where VanNieuwenhuyzen will also receive her Second Diamond Award.
It was about five years ago when VanNieuwenhuyzen received her First Diamond Award, she said, but she didn’t go on stage to accept it. This year, she plans to take the moment in.
“To get the Second Diamond Award is a recognition of your student achievement, not just your own achievement,” VanNieuwenhuyzen said. “It’s not about the longevity of the program, but what your students have done.”
Throughout competitions, coaches earn points in the national honorary through team participation, student achievement, public service, and leadership work. To earn a Diamond Award, a coach must be a member of the National Speech & Debate Association for at least five years. Coaches earn additional awards with more points earned in the Honor Society. A coach who attains 1,500 points is awarded a first diamond; they receive a second diamond for 3,000 points, a third for 6,000 points, and so on. Five years must pass between each Diamond Award.
While there may be more Diamond Awards in her future, VanNieuwenhuyzen looks forward to receiving her second while thanking the people who helped get her there: her students.
“Being able to see those students grow and mature into such eloquent speakers...they’re really just top-notch kids,” she said. “It’s incredible to see them at the end of four years be able to stand and speak in front of everyone and anyone. I don’t have to say a word; my kids speak for themselves and I love that.”