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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.

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Gregory Lakey (2017)

Lawndale, CA
Environmental Charter High School

Lakey’s innovative teaching idea, “Quadratics Through Rocketry,” focuses on providing a hands-on approach to understanding abstract concepts, such as quadratic equations, trigonometry and physics. Through designing and building a rocket, and then measuring and analyzing its flight, students are exposed to STEM concepts and learn how to apply them to real life situations. Building rockets from scratch can be very expensive, as there is a tremendous amount of trial and error involved in perfecting the apparatus, so Lakey hopes the Voya grant will enable him to build upon his rocketry project and establish a rocketry club that gives students the opportunity to compete in national rocketry competitions.

William Plunkett (Counseling Department and School Administration) (2017)

Rancho Cucamonga, CA
Los Osos High School

Plunkett’s innovative teaching idea, “EX-Change Electronics Program,” focuses on collecting and distributing electronic devices to low-income students for their academic success. Students in the EX-Change club set up donation drives, repair donated computers and then distribute them to disadvantaged students. Through the process, members of the club learn how to market events and fix computer hardware and software. Students who receive the donated devices are able to use them to finish online assignments, take extra-curriculum online and retake failed classes online. Well aware of the vital role that electronics play in education, Plunkett and his team believe that providing access to electronic devices will help disadvantaged students reach their full academic potential.

Melissa Zaucha (2017)

Placentia, CA
Compton Unified School District

Zaucha’s innovative teaching idea, “Robot Storytelling,” focuses on developing a unique, independent project which combines written and verbal skills with computer science skills. For the project, students will be required to write a short narrative and code a robot to act out the story. The Voya grant will be used to purchase pre-designed Ozobots for coding, as well as other technology materials. Zaucha believes that by merging technological studies with the written word, the project gives students the opportunity to expand their imagination, creativity, and critical thinking skills.

Carol Tanzman, Steven Cugley and Alicia Stanco (2017)

Los Angeles, CA
Eagle Rock Elementary School

The team’s innovative teaching idea, “Living Newspaper,” focuses on increasing students’ reading prosody –the rhythm and pattern of sounds of language, and depth of understanding through the independent study of non-fiction topics. Students independently will study self-selected historical resources, current events, novels, and biographies, and then work with the drama department to create an original production based on their texts. The Voya grant will allow the team to continue running the program she has been running for the last two years. Tazman and her team believe that the project’s success comes from putting student input at the core of the project’s creation and relying on individual teacher expertise to bring their visions to life. Through this method, students are provided an expansive and nuanced learning experience where the teachers hope the students further develop an understanding of how the arts can make a difference in their education, community and society.

Del Camara (2017)

Merced, CA
Merced High School

Camara’s innovative teaching idea, “Walk in My Shoes,” focuses on fostering creativity, collaboration and ingenuity through service-based learning. With her project, art students will work in pairs to design their own shoes with unique artwork highlighting positive ideas, thoughts and messages. These shoes will later be donated to local homeless shelters, foster homes, group homes and overseas military personnel. Camara believes that through art and service-based learning, students are able to use their creativity to have a positive impact on their community culture.

Shardie Ezell (2017)

Oakland, CA
Bret Harte Middle School

Ezell’s innovative teaching idea, “Document Us! Film Project,” focuses on providing an opportunity for the students of Bret Harte Middle School to learn how to create short films focused on their lives and experiences. Students involved in the project will learn all aspects of filmmaking including editing, basic computer skills and proper teamwork as the program will assign them to work in teams. The project will also be a great introduction to film making and allow the students to explore digital media tools. All activities will be hands-on and student-led. In an effort to engage the local community, Bret Harte will plan to host a community movie night to share the final produced movies with the families and friends of class participants.

Ding-ay Tadena (2017)

Hawthorne, CA
Hawthorne High School

Tadena’s innovative teaching idea, “When Geometry Meets Fashion,” is focused on connecting “left brain and right brain” skills and applies a Project-Based Learning (PBL) strategy in her geometry classes. Students apply the math skills they have developed from Tadena’s class to the study of music, art and fashion design. The Voya grant will allow Tadena to provide materials for a diverse array of mathematical art projects, including drawing, painting, fashion and accessory design, and more. Tadena believes by understanding and applying the crossovers between arts and mathematics, students will be able to find color, glamour and beauty in what is sometimes considered a mundane subject. With her award grant, Tadena plans to purchase items for the program, including dress forms, expandable body forms, mannequins, sewing machines, assorted textiles, 3-D printers and art materials. These items will help ensure the continued success of the program for years to come and will allow other teachers to utilize the resources so they can also discover the joy of arts integration into other subjects.

Jason Askenaze (2017)

Orange, CA
Santiago Charter Middle School

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
Dona Merced Elementary School

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.

Jayson Robinson, Pete Lopez and Dr. Drew Swanson (2017)

Fort Collins, CO
Fort Collins High School

The team’s innovative teaching idea, “Unmanned Aerial Systems,” focuses on developing a curriculum that encourages students to discover innovative skills and passions within the growing technological world. Their proposed Unmanned Aerial Systems class at Fort Collins High School will set the standard for the region, as no parallel course exists within the state of Colorado. This pioneering program will provide an overall introduction to the new age of unmanned flight, and help students develop UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle) controls, operation and maintenance skills. Through this program, Robinson and his team hope to equip all students with employable skills for their future careers.

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