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.
Stephanie Withrow “Materials for Strong Education” (2017)Weir, KS
Withrow’s innovative teaching idea, “Materials for Strong Education,” is focused on securing curriculum and structural materials for her Elementary Autism Classroom. Soon after launching the classroom at the start of this academic year, she realized that the initial budget would be insufficient. Therefore, she hopes to use the Voya grant to obtain the remaining items necessary for the classroom’s success. Namely, Withrow plans to revamp the classroom’s learning centers with resources that will allow her to develop a customized curriculum for each student. She also intends to purchase dividers and color-coded supplies in order to accommodate children with sensory needs. She believes that these curriculum and structural materials will enable her to meet each student’s individualized needs, while helping them reach their personal goals.
Nerissa Calhoun (2017)Corbin, KY
Calhoun’s innovative teaching idea, “Chromebooks for PBL,” focuses on leading students on the path towards 21st century learning through the integration of Project Based Learning (PBL) using Chromebooks. The Voya grant will be used to purchase a complete class set of Chromebooks, of which the school is not currently able to provide for its students. Calhoun believes that through technology-centric PBL, students are able to take the guidance of their teachers, along with what they have previously learned, and extend their own understanding to the point where they become the researchers, product developers, authors, and ultimately, teachers.
Amy Gordon and Bob Greene (2017)Midway, KY
Gordon’s and Greene’s innovative teaching idea, “Conceptual Ideas Transform Into Physical World Projects,” focuses on providing an enhanced “art shop” art experience for the students at Northside Elementary School and the community’s local high school. Through the program, students will meet with their prospective high school student partner to brainstorm ideas for the creation of a project that both students have a mutual interest in designing. Those elementary students participating in the program will draw their ideas on paper and the high school student partner will then create computer aided drawings of the way they envision the project to be completed. Between revisions of drawings and layouts, the older students will participate in real life scenarios as the younger students will be seen as their customers. This program will offer a great mentoring experience for both sets of students as well as an enhanced teamwork environment.
Alexis Nelson (2017)Doyline, LA
Nelson’s innovative teaching idea, “Lights! Camera! Literature!,” focuses on giving students the opportunity to create commercials and mini-movie trailers about the literature they study during the school year. Nelson teaches a flipped classroom where students use technology to grasp concepts instead of purely listening to traditional lectures. This project complements that structure, as it exposes students to elements of literature, while enabling them to become more technology proficient. Since Nelson’s students are located in a poverty-stricken, rural area, and are often without access to advanced technology, she will use the Voya grant to purchase the equipment necessary to execute this project.
Lillian Reyad (2017)New Roads, LA
Reyad’s innovative teaching idea, “STREAM Capstone Project,” focuses on introducing students to engineering design and the New Product Introduction (NPI) process through involvement in a startup company aimed at producing a functioning prototype of a product. In addition to learning about a wide variety of topics that are vital to the success of the NPI process, students are expected to meet certain benchmarks and report their progress on a bi-weekly basis. Through this project-based approach, Reyad intends to challenge students to apply previously-learned concepts, capitalize on their strengths and contribute to the production of a working prototype, in hopes of exposing them to a wide range of careers and helping them develop confidence in their abilities.
Natasha Sheldon (2017)Donaldsonville, LA
Sheldon’s innovative teaching idea, “Digital Storytelling Unit,” focuses on addressing the deficits in the student population’s reading ability, oral language development, background knowledge, and access to books, through interactive and engaging digital storytelling. The Voya grant will provide the resources needed to offer students multiple technology devices for the use of digital storytelling, including tablets, computers, and computer programs and software. Sheldon believes that through exposure to a variety of shared reading resources, students will be provided the tools necessary to build listening comprehension, character analysis, story elements, and writing skills.
Marcia Andrade Serpa, Peri Jacoubs and Julie Perillo (2017)Brockton, MA
The team’s innovative teaching idea, “Full STEAM Ahead,” focuses on using the Museum of Science, (Boston “Engineering is Elementary” program kits to bring hands-on) Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Mathematics (STEAM) experiences to children in their socially and economically diverse city. Among other materials, each kit contains an educational picture book that features diverse characters with whom their school’s multi-ethic student body can relate. By introducing STEAM concepts, connecting them to literature and facilitating the design-build-test-redesign cycle, these kits will not only teach students about science and engineering, but also help them develop critical communication, collaboration and problem-solving skills.
Alexizendria Link and Linda Parham (2017)Worcester, MA
Link’s and Parham’s innovative teaching idea, “UNITEY Culinary and Musical Arts,” (Understanding New Identifiers to Empower Youth), focuses on celebrating, increasing knowledge about and stimulating civic pride and cultural awareness of the historical accomplishments of notable persons of color from the Worcester area. In order to gain a comprehensive understanding of the subject matter, students will learn about African-American history by examining musical and culinary heritage. Music and food traditions are often rooted in historical meaning, so the team believes that studying them is essential to develop a complete cultural understanding. In addition to fostering leadership skills, civic accountability and creativity in students, Link and Parham hope this project will help unify the Worchester community.
Jay Gregorio (2017)Chillum, MD
Gregorio’s innovative teaching idea, “Eureka for the IDEA!,” is a Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics (STEAM) based project designed to provide opportunities for the special education population, engaging in hands-on activities that encourage critical thinking, collaboration and creativity. Students involved in the program, in the past, have shown high interest in the sciences especially those activities that involve experimenting, drawing, designing and building. The "Eureka for the IDEA" program will use a project-based learning approach which recognizes and addresses these interests. Each stage of the project will incorporate the use of new vocabulary, practice of reading comprehension, use of technology in presentations and strategies in communication.
Elisabeth Gambino (2017)Baltimore, MD
Gambino’s innovative teaching idea, “Digital Storytelling,” focuses on providing a learning environment for the students at Bard High School where they can learn the art of digital storytelling by becoming proficient in the skills of green design, art and ecology, and storyboarding. Through learning contemporary visual media production skills, students involved in the program will become proficient in conducting interviews and connecting their research on the environmental conservation movement to further analyze current environmental policies and local issues. With the Voya grant, students will leverage a set of new computers and updated software to enable their research capabilities and apply learnings to the goals of the project.