A Special Connection

Daniela Zavala


The loud squeak of the friction between gym shoes and the gym floor echo through the main gym at Round Lake High School. Laughter fills the gym like the halls fill up with students during passing period, and there is Senior Michelle Diaz, also laughing and giggling like time doesn’t seem to exist, as she enjoys one of the most favorite and precious times of her day: gym class with her friends with special needs.

Michelle Diaz seems like any other high school, but in reality, she is far different than the rest. Besides studying and working hard to maintain her GPA of 4.1, Diaz spends majority of her time volunteering with students who have special needs, creating meaningful friendships with every one of them. 

Since her sophomore year, Diaz regularly spends her school days with students with special needs, volunteering to do after school activities such as allied bowling in the fall and allied soccer in the spring. The allied sports program allows general education students and students who are part of the Educational Life Skills program to work and practice together. Diaz  also spent the summer working in a program for kids with special needs. Diaz said once she hears something as simple as “Hi, Michelle” from one of the kids, it can turn her whole day around. She said, “If they’re happy, I should be happy too.They have hard things to go through, and I don’t know why I should be sad, so it just gives me a reason be happy and have a positive attitude.”

“All of our students love Michelle,” said Ms. Lisa Zachwieja, a special education teacher for the Educational Life Skills Program at RLHS. “She goes out of her way to spend time with them whenever she has a free minute.”

Diaz wants people to know that kids with special needs are really no different from any of us. “Once you get to know them, you realize they’re just like anybody else,” she said. 

Before volunteering with the allied sports club, Diaz had her doubts. “[I asked myself], ‘Should I even do this?  What if they don’t like me?'”  She was doubtful and conflicted, but in the end all her worries washed away as she said she was flowered with love and a welcoming vibe from each and every one of them the second she walked into the classroom. Diaz also shares how loving and caring they are. “They have crushes on each other, it’s the cutest thing ever.”

Beyond her volunteering, Diaz studies any minute she has. When she was asked what her biggest motivation was, her answer was the kids. What drives her to be successful is what she will later be able to do for the kids in  the future at a professional level. She wants to be a speech language pathologist, which helps people with communication disorders.  “I want to be able to communicate with them and help them communicate with us and others,” Diaz said. “If I can communicate, then they can too, there should be no barrier.”

Diaz gives thanks to all her teachers she’s had throughout her high school career. She believes they all have had an impact on the kind of student and person she is today. “All my teachers have believed in me and my capacity, they’re always encouraging me,” she said.  

Diaz is doubtful if she will be successful as she struggles at times to balance her busy schedule, but all the support she gets is what pushes her to give 110 percent. Diaz says she uses all the free class time she gets to finish any work she might have so it doesn’t pile up and drown her later on and is often asked why she doesn’t talk with her peers when teachers give them free time  “I don’t sleep that much and stress out a lot, so I take advantage of any free time any of my teachers might give us,” she said. 

Diaz has had such a positive impact on  her class as a whole. She has shown that she has the capability to be successful in what she chooses to do. She has never had a moment where she hasn’t left a positive mark. She is a great role model in the class of 2018 and at Round Lake High School in general as well.