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.
Jennifer Bayley, Tina Ecker and Debbie Leyba-Angel (2017)Albuquerque, NM
The team’s innovative teaching idea, “Fossils & Optics Rock!,” focuses on increasing comprehension of geology and optics, two critical knowledge areas that students have identified as difficult to understand. Though Bayley and her team develop experiments with common objects and internet resources, nothing can replace the value of holding a fossil in one’s own hands or looking through a digital microscope at layers of sedimentary rock with one’s own eyes. With the Voya grant, the team plans to purchase materials for students to conduct experiments using fossils, rock samples, waves and light. Through concrete experiences with rocks, fossils, microscopes and accessible geologic timelines, Bayley and her team aim to increase student understanding of critical science concepts.
Melissa Jones and Janie Kimble (2017)Carlin, NV
Jones’ and Kimble’s innovative teaching idea, “STEM Gives You Wings!,” focuses on introducing students to the science of aeronautics and flight through a problem-based learning experience. Aerospace engineers continue to modify aircraft designs to reduce noise pollution and raise fuel efficiency, so this project intends to teach a wide age range of students – from kindergarteners to high school seniors – about these advancing technology practices. By conducting a variety of aeronautic activities and simulations, which will incorporate the science of aeronautics, engineering design, mathematics and technology associated with flying aircraft, the team hopes to help students develop an extensive background and understanding of aeronautics through real life application.
Tiffane Barrow (2017)Brooklyn, NY
Barrow’s innovative teaching idea, “Student Created Math Textbook,” focuses on helping students create customized math textbooks. In addition to lessons on graphics and mathematical concepts, Barrow ensures that there is open communication, constant revision and reflection throughout the process. Ultimately, each student’s final copy will be professionally printed and bound into a personalized math textbook. Students will exchange textbooks to prepare for tests, and parents will be invited to solve their child’s math problems during a series of Math Family Nights. Eventually, the most detailed book will be replicated to help students district-wide. Through this project, Barrow hopes to foster mastery and innovation in the art of mathematics.
Michele Cotter and Betsy Lopata (2017)Madison, NY
Cotter’s and Lopata’s innovative teaching idea, “Madison Munchies,” focuses on changing the current curriculum at Madison Central School from a basic cooking class to one that provides real-life experiences for students. Students involved in the program will be engaged in a program that combines areas of everyday learning that they may not otherwise experience. Utilizing three class periods, the program will combine cooking, English and math classes into one “life experience” class. This will involve researching different recipes, creating grocery lists and keeping track of all expenses and income accordingly. The students will keep a log similar to that of a bank account where they will monitor the funds that have been spent and made throughout the school year. Math skills such as addition, subtraction, ratios, fractions, and percentages will be utilized during this process. This program will also allow the students to go on field trips where they will be introduced to different job opportunities that might be available to them after high school, leveraging the skills learned in class and seeing how they translate to everyday life.
Robin Portnoy (2017)East Meadow, NY
Portnoy’s innovative teaching idea, “Creating Video Portfolios,” focuses on creating a language lab in her classroom where students can videotape and archive their American Sign Language (ASL) projects in a portfolio format. Since ASL is a visual language, Portnoy plans to purchase tablets that her students can use to record videos of their progress or communicate with other ASL speakers remotely. East Meadow School District has the largest American Sign Language Program of its kind in the United States, so these tablets would also give Portnoy’s students the opportunity to share their unique experience with people across the globe.
Malawi Bracey, Denique Haynes, Karen Rattner and Jackie Rodriguez (2017)Queens, NY
The team’s innovative teaching idea, “Full STEAM Ahead,” focuses on investigating the relationship between science, technology, engineering, arts and math within the human body, as well as on our earth. Students will explore the connection between science and the impact that various health factors have on the body and other bodily functions – by sculpting and creating models of various elements of a healthy body, as well as those that are decaying due to unhealthy living. Through research and journaling, students will conduct investigations, construct models and comprise theories that reflect the cause and effect of certain viruses, ailments and other bodily dysfunctions. Through this project, Bracey and her team have enabled students to use their creativity and STEAM knowledge to explore real-life health situations.
Tom Wilson, Dani Garfield and Tim McCarty (2017)North Canton, OH
The team’s innovative teaching idea, “Mobile Storytellers,” focuses on reconnecting students with their community through one-on-one interactive video-journalism projects. The project has been ongoing since 2014, and the school managed to raise the funds to purchase a fully-operational production vehicle for the project. The vehicle acts as a traveling video lab designed to provide a high impact, career-based experience for students as they work for non-profit clients, preserve the arts in our community, and build cultural awareness through journalistic storytelling. The Voya grant will allow the school to continue the program for years to come. Wilson and his team believe that the project gives students the opportunity to connect with people from different ethnic groups, races, economic statuses, and ages so they can jointly share their stories, prompt important dialogue, and preserve history for future generations.
Lori Cooper and Justin Harris (2017)Cincinnati, OH
Cooper’s and Harris’ innovative teaching idea, “Defenders of the Mill Creek,” focuses on using challenge-based learning alongside an engineering design process to improve the quality of the local watershed in Cincinnati, the Mill Creek. Students involved in the project will monitor the health of the local watershed throughout the course of the school year, visiting various sites along the creek and performing chemical tests. Through their findings, they will educate the local community on the need to reduce the amount of water consumed on a daily basis. Students will examine how local water usage affects the watershed by tracing the flow of water from their home to the wastewater treatment plant. This project presents a unique opportunity for the students to help solve a societal problem that is of particular significance to the local community.
Caitlyn Arendt (2017)Vermilion, OH
Arendt’s innovative teaching idea, “Technology for Hands-On, Digital Learning and Career Academics,” focuses on expanding her school’s broadcast journalism class, where participants contribute to a student-run news network by creating live broadcasts on a daily basis. Students are the sole creators, serving as the writers, reporters and camera-people. After the course’s initial success, the small class size doubled due to increased student interest. With the Voya grant, Arendt intends to purchase additional equipment, such as cameras and tripods, to meet the greater demand. Expanding the program will benefit not only the students enrolled in the class, but also those in the student body and local community who enjoy appearing on and watching the student-made broadcasts.
Julie Dolf and Debbie Conner (2017)Edmond, OK
Dolf’s and Conner’s innovative teaching idea, “Action Based Learning Lab,” (ABL), focuses on providing additional resources and equipment to complement the lab experience for students at Sunset Elementary School. Once complete, the lab will be equipped with stations designed to enhance the academic skills of the students through movement. Students involved in the project will not only have an opportunity to participate in physical activity during the course, but they will also be engaged in active academic learning. With the new lab equipment, the stations will consist of balancing, rolling, skipping, rocking, throwing and catching – all targeting unique brain functions and communications. What makes Action Based learning so unique is its ability to provide evidence-based brain science to enhance the skills necessary for successful academic achievement.