Congratulations to all of our Voya Unsung Heroes winners. Each year, 100 finalists receive $2,000 while three of them are selected as Top Winners to receive additional grants of $25,000, $10,000, and $5,000. You can find winners for your state or for a specific year using the controls below.
Denise Kelly (2017)Sterling, AK
Kelly’s innovative teaching idea, “Our Caring School Community,” focuses on applying the Caring School Communities curriculum to the Sterling community in order to develop a caring, empathetic and growth-oriented school culture. The curriculum provides daily lessons on empathy, growth mindset, bullying prevention and kindness; home-side activities for students to start in class and complete with their families; and school-wide community building events. By promoting a safe frame of mind and correcting behavioral issues, this project aims to increase students’ focus and improve academic proficiency. Kelly and the school’s staff believe that the Caring School Curriculum, which complements the school’s existing Positive Behavior Intervention and Supports framework, will successfully encourage students, staff and families to join together in building a strong and caring school culture.
Lisa Richie (2017)Pell City, AL
Riche’s innovative teaching idea, “Dash & Dot,” focuses on teaching students to code through play with Dash & Dot robots from Wonder Workshop that ignite curiosity and confidence, while providing fun ways to develop collaboration, communication and digital literacy skills. These award-winning robots bring STEM concepts to life by allowing students to translate ideas into visual, picture-based coding. Importantly, Dash & Dot robots are also valuable tools when it comes to teaching students about empathy, cooperative play, teamwork, patience, resilience and persistence. The Voya grant will enable teachers to incorporate Dash & Dot robots into their elementary school curriculum, which Richie believes will help young students better grasp the visual and spatial aspects of coding.
Meredith Snow (2017)Pell City, AL
Snow’s innovative teaching idea, “Let’s Roll: Adaptive Cycles,” focuses on providing students with special needs the opportunity to enjoy the outdoors, exercise, and socialize with peers in order to achieve optimal health. The Voya grant will allow for the purchase of top-of-the-line bikes, as well as bike storage systems, and to provide a vehicle for special needs students to develop their balance and coordination skills. Snow believes that the opportunity to participate in daily and weekly physical activity will motivate and encourage special needs students and steer them on the path towards success.
Trent Staggs (2017)Prattville, AL
Staggs' innovative teaching idea, “Money Life Skills – Get Real,” focuses on providing high school students a curriculum centered on financial literacy. The Voya grant will provide teachers with the materials needed to create a real life simulation of a modern economy within a classroom setting. Staggs believes that by embracing this training, as well as a “Life Happens” mantra, students will be encouraged to open their eyes to the reality of financial planning and money management, a reality that is relevant both in their adolescent years and throughout their lifetime.
Deana Allison (2017)Fort Smith, AR
Allison’s innovative teaching idea, “Reading for Life,” focuses on implementing an online program that helps below grade level readers develop their reading skills. Through use of iPads and an interactive website, students log on to a program that tailors stories, questions and vocabulary to individual needs. The Reading for Life literacy program is accessible to students throughout the three years they are in Allison’s Special Education class, and it has been so successful that some children have improved two grade levels in a single year. Her license recently ended, so she intends to utilize the Voya grant to renew this essential reading program.
Mary Beth Hatch (2017)Harrison, AR
Hatch’s innovative teaching idea, “Natural State, Natural Art,” focuses on engaging the students at Harrison Middle School through art and Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) concepts by allowing the students to publicly display their products to enhance the diversity, tourism, and economy within the town of Harrison, AR. Students involved in the program will learn to lead and collaborate with other students as well as local artists within the communities through the creation of mural artwork. As the students collaborate with other students and artists within the community, they will be presented with opportunities to take leadership roles within each mural concept. The teams will work together to make each mural a natural work of art, leveraging photo, video and design software to portray their concepts. Additionally, the collaboration with other students and the local artists will present public speaking opportunities for those students who do not normally partake in this type of learning experience.
Renee Clancy “Cameras That Care” (2017)Chandler, AZ
Clancy’s innovative teaching idea, “Cameras that Care,” focuses on helping students cultivate skill, talent, and business acumen within the field of photography. Her project involves a multi-step approach to photography class, in which students learn how to take high quality photos and then are tasked with offering their skills to families within the community that cannot afford photography services. The Voya grant will go towards the purchase of a new set of cameras for her class, which will give them the opportunity to work directly with real clients to explore their burgeoning photography interests, all while learning invaluable lessons in business management and community service. According to Clancy, the beauty of the project comes from the students own discovery of how an action as simple as snapping a photo can evolve into a project that transcends the boundaries of traditional academic instruction, to explore the more profound lessons taught through creative, service-oriented study.
Lydia Wynn “Project Based Learning Pilot” (2017)San Tan Valley, AZ
Wynn’s innovative teaching idea, “Project Based Learning Pilot,” is focused on designing projects that illustrate precalculus concepts. In the past, she has developed projects to teach her students about logarithms and exponents, oscillation, vectors and conic sections in space. Wynn plans to use the Voya grant to secure resources that will strengthen future projects. In the long term, she hopes to expand her project-based learning pilot by sharing her improved syllabus with teachers in different departments and creating interdisciplinary curriculum. Her ultimate goal is to show students how to use math to solve the problems they face on an everyday basis, which she believes will lead to personal growth and community improvement.
Jason Askenaze (2017)Orange, CA
Askenaze’s innovative teaching idea, “Woodshop Makes a Difference,” focuses on sending student-made wooden cars to orphanages in impoverished countries. He and his woodshop students have designed and built toys for children in Ukraine, India, Mexico and Uganda. During the year Askenaze spent researching service-learning for his Master’s thesis, he discovered that students have a higher degree of interest and retain information better when they know that their work is benefitting someone other than themselves. This inspired him to develop his toy car project, which has now been operating for over a decade. Through this project, Askenaze aspires to help his students understand that there are great needs in this world – and that they can make a difference.
Erin Bollacker (2017)Rancho Cucamonga, CA
Bollacker’s innovative teaching idea, “The Next Great Composer,” focuses on helping students develop, evaluate, improve and perform their own musical compositions, which they will compile into personal portfolios. Due to the school’s lack of instruments, Bollacker has to focus her lessons on singing, which severely limits the types of composition activities that she can conduct in her class. With the Voya grant, she plans to purchase instruments that will enable her to give her students a well-rounded musical education. Through this project, Bollacker hopes to help her students become skilled musicians whose compositions are highlighted in the classroom, at annual music performances, and in portfolios that document their work over a period of five years.