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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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Victoria Love and Shannon Byrnes (2017)

Walkersville, MD
Walkersville Middle School

Love’s and Byrnes’ innovative teaching idea, “Courageous Person Podcast,” focuses on providing curriculum that enables students to develop their creative and critical thinking skills through independent research and use of innovative technology in the development of publishing media. With their project, Love and Byrnes seek to unite media and spoken word with student-led research and quality of information to bring to life the “Courageous Person Project.” The Voya grant will allow the school to supply their students with technology and resources to conduct independent research about their self-selected courageous person and then create and publish their own podcasts about their subject using Twisted Wave and Jamendo software. Through this process, students will utilize an innovative form of media technology to develop public speaking, listening, and research skills. The connection of modern mediums of technology and news with independent research and critical analysis cultivates a learning experience that can be applied both inside and outside of their classroom.

Maureen McDiarmid (2017)

Lansing, MI
Sexton High School

McDiarmid’s innovative teaching idea, “Agriculture Exploration,” focuses on providing a curriculum that increases STEM achievement among students as they study and apply concepts of agricultural science. The Voya grant will provide the school with resources to expand their lab activities within their biology and AP biology courses to encompass the relevance of biology and biotechnology in students’ everyday life. This, McDiarmid believes, will help inform and enthuse students so they can make educated decisions about their lifestyle choices and career opportunities using the scientific information they have gained from their studies.

Adam Burns and Melissa Velk (2017)

Troy, MI
Troy Athens High School

Burns’ and Velk’s innovative teaching idea, “Athens TV Animation Studio,” focuses on nurturing an authentic learning experience for students in broadcasting, art and marketing classes by collaborating to create sets, characters, and scripts for short animation films. Through this work, both classes will work through a major, multi-step process to learn ways of adapting to creative differences and collaborating with large, diverse groups of people to achieve a common goal. The Voya grant will be used in the purchase of materials, software, and technology, which will go towards creating an animation studio. By combining the experiences of two different groups, and uniting them towards a common goal, Burns and Velk hope to gives students the opportunity to explore the intersection of media and design and expand their own creative potential.

Krista Squiers (2017)

Negaunee, MI
Negaunee Middle School

Squiers' innovative teaching idea, “Environmental Adventures,” focuses on cultivating students’ abilities in areas related to basic survival, team-building, and real world problem solving through a 24-Hour Wilderness Experience. The Voya grant will provide the resources necessary to cultivate an intense classroom and wilderness problem-solving experience for students through a unique Environmental Adventures Project. Squiers believes that this outdoor experience will test and challenge students, and provide them the opportunity to develop lifelong skills that can be applied both within and outside of the classroom.

Brenda Flynn (2017)

Rochester, MN
Jefferson Elementary School

Flynn’s innovative teaching idea, “Dashing to Higher Achievement,” focuses on providing the necessary materials to develop opportunities for the students of Jefferson Elementary School to grow in the 4Cs (critical thinking, communication, collaboration and creativity). Students involved in the program will demonstrate growth in the areas of coding, project planning, problem-solving, as well as team building and social skills development. These skills will be taught using the guidance of Dash & Dot robots from Wonder Workshop, providing a cross-curriculum learning environment for the students. Through the use of new and advanced technology along with participation in group activities, students will have an opportunity to develop skills that will make them better leaders and more effective communicators as well as provide proficiencies in time management and project planning.

Nikki McCarthy (2017)

Pequot Lakes, MN
Eagle View Elementary School

McCarthy’s innovative teaching idea, “Learning Lab,” focuses on filling gaps in students’ education experience through the creation of an Action Based Learning Lab for her elementary school. The Voya grant will allow McCarthy to create designated spaces on campus to be used to aid in the development of necessary pathways in the brain for learning and retaining. McCarthy believes that by building a framework for learning that incorporates station rotations structured around vestibular development, visual-motor control, visual tracking, and sensory integration, students will be able to develop higher level thinking skills. These skills will ultimately fill foundational gaps that will help them progress at advanced levels through elementary school and beyond.

Jenny Eckman, Katie Leseman and Holly Fjerstad (2017)

Roseville, MN
Parkview Center School

The team’s innovative teaching idea, “E-STEM First,” focuses on using the natural world as a context to make Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) programs an integrated component of first grade at Parkview Center School. Students involved in the project will not just passively watch, but also participate in citizen science by monitoring milkweed on the school’s grounds, tracking observations of adult eggs and larvae and report on their findings through the “Journey North” web based program. In addition to the hands-on components, classroom libraries and literacy practice will be enhanced for the students as they become active communicators and collaborators.

Stacy Pitts (2017)

Camdenton, MO
Hawthorn Elementary School

Pitts’ innovative teaching idea, “Cultivating Compassion,” focuses on making empathy and compassion a priority in all aspects of learning by providing continuous and meaningful opportunities for students to develop empathy and compassion while relating to others. The Voya grant will enable the school to purchase materials that will expose students to texts and other learning opportunities centered on understanding compassion and empathy. Pitts believes this approach triggers thought, unlocks memories, and creates a community that is safe for students to tell their own stories. By making compassion a priority in all aspects of learning, the project provides rich learning opportunities that begin in the classroom, extend into the school and community, and reach out into the world.

Michelle Turonek (2017)

Pontotoc, MS
Pontotoc City Junior High School

Turonek’s innovative teaching idea, “Dramatic Spanish!,” focuses on creating a unique and adapted Spanish curriculum which merges technology and film production to engage Spanish learners. The Voya grant will provide the school with props, costumes, and recording equipment necessary for producing new and original theater productions in Spanish each week. Turonek believes that this teaching strategy enables students to use their artistic and creative ideas to bring to life original stories, while simultaneously increasing understanding and comprehension of the Spanish language.

Connie Michael and Terry Lawton (2017)

Crow Agency, MT
Crow Agency Public School

Michael’s and Lawton’s innovative teaching idea, “Innovations: Land Overlooked,” focuses on creating a STEAM curriculum that offers students hands-on learning in the field of biodiversity and agricultural science. The Voya grant will provide the school with resources to develop hands-on classes and projects that explore concepts, ideas, and solutions related to real-world problems and challenges. Michael and Lawton believe that by working both inside and outside the classroom to observe, collect, study, and present scientific data, students will develop the tools necessary for taking on the science and engineering challenges shaping our future.