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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Victor Appiah (2018)

Union City, GA
FCS College and Career Academy

Appiah’s innovative teaching idea, “Community Drone Revitalization,” focuses on providing an opportunity for the students at FCS College and Career Academy to become more engaged within their community through the use of a drone footage project. Students involved in the project will identify an issue within the community that they wish to shed a light on. Through aerial footage, they will create a video presentation that will be shared and presented to the community board of directors, chamber of commerce, city mayors, school leaders and local businesses. With the Voya grant, students will learn about the importance of being active members of their community through the introduction of commercial drone piloting and professional project management.

Darren Reismeier (2018)

Kailu Kona, HI
Ho’okena Elementary School

Reismeier’s innovative teaching idea, “Telescope and Observatory,” focuses on installing an observatory at Ho’okena Elementary School and creating a classroom specifically for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) topics. Previously, the school had acquired a telescope for the observatory, but with the Voya grant, Reismeier will be able to purchase the additional software and resources necessary to operate and configure the telescope. The Observatory will become a central location for STEM lessons where students will study the sciences related to astronomy while leveraging engineering and computer skills to operate the telescope. Reismeier’s hopes his approach will strengthen and improve the teachers' ability to teach these topics effectively and ultimately improve student learning.

Julie Bradley and Ann DiGiacomo (2018)

Cedar Rapids, IA
Harding Middle School

Bradley’s and DiGiacomo’s innovative teaching idea, “CR Stories,” focuses on creating a collaborative, multimodal digital storytelling project that will span grades 4-12, highlighting the students' strengths and funds of knowledge. The primary goals of this project include engagement, equity, and enrichment through providing immigrant students and their families a way to engage with the school and the community. Students involved in the project will collaborate with staff to create digital stories that highlight who they are and the most significant aspects of their culture. Listening stations will provide students and families an easy-to-use tool to gather oral histories, conversations and interviews. These digital stories will be shared with the school community, school blog and “Listening Station Network” of users. Through this project funded by the Voya grant, the students and their families will be provided with a voice in the local community.

Sterling Willford (2018)

Sugar City, ID
Sugar-Salem Jr. High School

Willford’s innovative teaching idea, “Engineering for Rural Students,” focuses on expanding and enhancing the district’s current robotics program. With the Voya grant, Willford will acquire more materials that allow teams to keep and protect their class material in one place in order to enhance their creative designs. Students involved in the project will develop a technical writing component in which student teams will submit designs and proposals with a request for materials they need. This will improve team collaboration, planning, and productivity which are all a key components of engineering careers. Willford hopes to expand the availability of the program and provide up to twice as many students the opportunity to take these classes.

Lynn Gorey, Sheri DeCarlo, Margo Giannoulis, and all other staff members at the school (2018)

Westmont, IL
Maercker Elementary School

The team’s innovative teaching idea, “One Book, One School Project,” focuses on encouraging and developing a love for reading for the students at Maercker School. With the Voya grant, the team plans to purchase copies of the same book for each student and staff, as well as host related school-wide activities. The book that will be chosen has characters from different cultural backgrounds, representing some of the make-up of the schools community. Students involved in the project will be asked to complete a variety of projects and activities, including virtual field trips, games, geography and history research, vocabulary activities and art connections through a common school blog. The curriculum will look to engage all students regardless of academic level, cultural background or economic status.

Heather McCarthy (2018)

Oak Lawn, IL
Oak Lawn Hometown Middle School

McCarthy’s innovative teaching idea, “Teaching Tolerance Book Talks,” focuses on creating a program at Oak Lawn Hometown Middle School where the students will be exposed to multicultural books addressing important topics such as diversity, tolerance, acceptance, and empathy. Students involved in the project will have an opportunity to read books that discuss these issues which can normally generate fearful responses. They will then be tasked with creating a series of videos detailing the valuable lessons learned within book, allowing them to share their message broadly with their peers. With the support of the Voya grant, McCarthy hopes that students will be challenged to discuss how the knowledge learned can be applied to their individual environments and ultimately create a more inclusive and accepting community.

Samantha Gleisten (2018)

Chicago, IL
Rogers Park Montessori School

Gleisten’s innovative teaching project, “21st Century Problem Solving,” focuses on teaching explicit lessons that help the students at Rogers Park Montessori School problem solve. Currently, Gleisten spends ample time helping her students gain independence and seek out solutions on their own. Logic problems, design thinking projects, creating prototypes of designs and repairing small electronics are all helpful in developing these skills. With the Voya grant, Gleisten will plan to gather consumables and supplies in order to be able to secure resources for the future. She will expand on her current curriculum by incorporating problem-solving activities in all areas such as social studies, language and sciences, in addition to the current lessons on problem solving. Students involved in the project will collaborate to find solutions to presented problems by using different techniques learned in problem-solving lessons, giving an opportunity to both hone and apply different critical thinking methods.

Jennifer Suskovich and Ike Strege (2018)

Fishers, IN
Sand Creek Intermediate School

Suskovich’s and Strege’s innovative teaching idea, “Light My Class With Solar Energy,” encourages students to use their Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math (STEAM) knowledge in a “real-world” application. With the Voya grant, Suskovich and Strege will be able to maximize the amount of time that their classroom can be powered using solar energy. Students involved in the project will use an engineering design process to work collaboratively to create solar tracking prototypes, test and redesign their systems. Using mathematical knowledge, they will also be able to determine the proper placement of solar panels throughout the day in order to receive the maximum amount of sunlight in the classroom. The students will also be able to collaborate with the art department to ensure the designs of the solar panels are aesthetically pleasing on the school’s grounds.

Joyce Roads (2018)

Terre Haute, IN
Terre Haute North High School

Roads’ innovative teaching idea, “Building and Facility Maintenance,” focuses on teaching special education students basic skills for employment within the maintenance field. With the support of the Voya grant, Roads will utilize the skills taught in her classroom to build and sell a “tiny house” which will ultimately reveal her students’ skills. Students will research blueprints, create a materials list, build, prepare for sale, sell, and buy materials for the next house. This project provides Roads an opportunity to teach and be a general contractor while supervising each aspect of the job. She wants her students to experience success and pride in the project’s completion. It is a unique and new project as many schools special education students do not often participate in building trades or electronics classes. Ultimately, students will have an opportunity to expand into the tiny house or sheds and playhouses.

Sharon Manley (2018)

Terre Haute, IN
Terre Town Elementary School

Manley’s innovative teaching idea, “Pioneer Playhouse,” focuses on creating a space for the neighborhood children of Terre Town Elementary to play games, engage in arts and craft activities, play basketball, read books, and roller skate. With the Voya grant, the team will take a retired school bus and remodel it to enable a space for creating, reading and playing. The bus will drive to lower-income areas with a goal of building community relations between the school and the families in which it serves. Currently, many families are not able to attend school activities due to lack of transportation. The remodeled bus would allow Manley to bring these families to the school. In the end, the she believes the students will not only have an opportunity to play, but will engage in positive interactions with the staff and the local community will become stronger.

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