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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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Christian Santomauro, Wali Camvel, Bella Finau-Faumuina, Kyle Kim, Lindsey Medina and Justine Silva (2017)

Kaneohe, HI
Kaneohe Elementary School

The team’s innovative teaching idea, “Place Based Learning,” focuses on teaching students about historical trauma, from the illegal overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom in 1893 to present day, in order to help them understand the impact these events have on their lives. The place-based, project-based learning model aims to teach students about the rich cultural and educational history of their ancestors, along with what happened to break down and shame the Hawaiian culture, while enabling them to break the cycle of trauma that has plagued their community for generations. Ultimately, through this project, Santomauro and his team hope to demonstrate that given the right structure, tools and mindset, all students can learn.

Jeremy Seitz, Kristin Mullin, Erin Kamikawa, Corey Harkins, Jennifer Hirotsu and Jeffrey Martinso (2017)

Honolulu, HI
Wallace Rider Farrington High School

The team’s innovative teaching idea, “Kapalama Redevelopment Project,” focuses on developing a hands-on curriculum for students that encompasses disciplines related to architecture, civil engineering, health and business. The Voya grant will provide the resources necessary to connect students with the Hawaii Transit Oriented Development (TOD) Division in order to conduct a full-scale mock redevelopment project. Seitz and his team believe that by exposing students to real world scenarios and industry professionals, students will gain a wealth of academic benefits in addition to industry experience, professional knowledge, and an understanding of the effects generated through positive community impact.

Diane Sande, Anna Burnham and Ann Prichard (2017)

Charles City, IA
Lincoln Elementary School

The team’s innovative teaching idea, “STEM,” focuses on increasing young girl’s interest in pursuing STEM-based fields, putting a particular emphasis on careers in engineering. During this project, girls will be introduced to a variety of engineering challenges, followed up with specific activities based on differing types of engineering such as electrical, acoustical, aeronautical, material, packaging and structural. For the small, rural community where Sande and her team teach, this program will be the first of its kind. They believe that it will help girls gain confidence, build collaboration skills and develop problem solving abilities as they work in groups to solve real-world engineering problems.

Pennie Peck (2017)

Boise, ID
Pioneer School of the Arts

Peck’s innovative teaching idea, “Performing Arts Lab,” focuses on providing students with the instruments and materials needed for an engaging elementary level performing arts education. Though the Composition Performing Arts Lab at Pioneer School of the Arts has been primarily centered on piano keyboard instruction, Peck conducted a successful trial unit with borrowed ukuleles last year. Now, she hopes to use the Voya grant to purchase a set of ukuleles, in order to give students in each class the opportunity to use their own instruments, which will save valuable instruction time. Peck believes this project will greatly improve the musical education and performance skills of individual students and strengthen the school community as a whole.

Trent Van Leuven (2017)

Mackay, ID
Mackay High School

Van Leuven’s innovative teaching idea, “Fish Farm and Food Issues,” focuses on creating a curriculum which educates students about modern plant science, aquaponics, and agriculture in third world countries. The Voya grant will enable the school to construct a new facility to be used for raising cold water fish, which can then be converted into a greenhouse that may be used for the study of wildlife and tropical plants. Van Leuven believes that through the study of marine biology and ecology, students can develop their understanding of modern agricultural systems and the ways by which modern plant science can be utilized to aid agricultural crises across the globe.

Julie Linden, Cindy Formas and Maria Kilgore (2017)

Aurora, IL
Bardwell Elementary School

The team’s innovative teaching idea, “Every Child Can Code,” focuses on helping students develop coding skills at a young age. The program aims to improve children’s awareness of computer technologies and related career fields, and then give them the opportunity to learn, practice and master computer coding. To solidify their skills, students will work in teams to develop code that instructs a robot to perform a series of tasks or respond a certain way to a particular aspect of its environment. Linden and her team believe that early exposure to computer concepts and IT careers is particularly important for students in the impoverished school district where they teach, so they hope this project will enrich the learning environment and provide needed access to computer science education.

Aaron Oetting (2017)

Crystal Lake, IL
Faith Lutheran High School

Oetting’s innovative teaching idea, “Math Video Instruction,” focuses on enabling students in his leadership development class to create instructional math videos that will serve as resources for younger students. By designing, filming and editing educational videos that break down Algebra I and Geometry for peers who need more specific help, students will develop their leadership skills and improve the school environment, while reinforcing their own math knowledge. The Voya grant will be used to purchase the audio and video equipment, editing software and educational material needed to implement this project, which the leadership class would also use to create fun and interesting announcements for the entire school. He believes this project has the potential to strengthen his students’ leadership skills, create a valuable resource for students in lower level math classes, and increase school unity with improved communication.

Kaila Lifferth, Vanessa Gutierrez and Amanda Harmeson (2017)

Columbus, IN
Clifty Creek Elementary School

The team’s innovative teaching idea, “Related Arts Africa Project,” focuses on introducing students to African music, dance and art. Culture bearers and individuals from the community with ties to different parts of Africa will be invited to teach students about their customs and arts. After creating projects that mimic the styles and themes of African art, and learning the different drumming strokes, traditional folk songs and dances, students will participate in a culminating event by performing a song and dance for the school and their parents. Lifferth and her team believes that this project will help students gain a broader understanding of other cultures by utilizing cross-curricular learning and promoting an increased dialogue within the school community.

Darcy Rund, Doug Brinker, April Manning and Sandy Nichols (2017)

Greenfield, IN
Brandywine Elementary School

The team’s innovative teaching idea, “Tower Garden, Let’s Grow!,” focuses on giving students the opportunity to plant, grow, harvest, taste, and share produce, while learning to take responsibility for their own health. The Tower Garden uses a highly efficient and eco-friendly aeroponic growing system, which is considered the next generation of urban farming. In addition to gardening, students will study the immune and cellular system of the body, learn why plant-based whole foods are essential for growth while being engaged in a fun learning environment that promotes healthy choices. Through the use of the Tower Garden, Rund and her team believe students will grow into responsible, eco-savvy, earth-friendly, technology-wise, health-conscience citizens who care about their community.

Jennifer Godar and the Washburn University Forensics Department (2017)

Lawrence, KS
Bishop Seabury Academy

Godar’s innovative teaching idea, “Genetics and Biotechnology,” incorporates a semester-long elective that will continue to attract the attention of students interested in genetics and forensic science. With the Voya grant award, the lab component of the course will be improved to offer students an enhanced learning experience. Students involved in the program will learn about the structure of DNA, DNA replication and the process of DNA profiling. Through an organized case study that will be part of the programs curriculum, students will engage the entire school community by creating even more interest in this area of the sciences. Additionally, students will partake in a field trip to the Kansas Bureau of Investigation Laboratory at Washburn University, providing them with the opportunity to see forensic scientists at work in a “real” environment.