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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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Pamala Bethke (2017)

Round Rock, TX
Stony Point High School

Bethke’s innovative teaching idea, “Help the Monarch’s Plight,” focuses on conducting research on the Monarch Waystation that her school’s Environmental Awareness Club designed, created and registered last spring. She and her students hope to study the effect that the waystation has had on the dwindling monarch population by tagging the butterflies, taking drone photography and installing a video camera in the garden. Through this project, Bethke aims to teach photography students about the impact that technology has had on the traditional field of photojournalism and give student scientists the opportunity to contribute to the global effort to help endangered species.

Kyle Stallard, Nadya Espinoza, Luis Macias, Diana Roberts and Christina Tometchko (2017)

Houston, TX
Brays Oaks High School

The team’s innovative teaching idea, “Elixir for (Ill)iteracy,” focuses on building healthy nutrition habits through the implementation of a comprehensive, garden-based nutrition education program. The Voya grant will enable the school to introduce classes, equipment, teachers, and other resources focused on targeting improvement in areas related to nutrition, literacy, and math. Stallard and his team believe that by incorporating physical activity, movement-based classroom instruction, and positive role models in student learning and curriculum, teachers can augment literacy scores, improve math skills, and support greater health and longevity among their students.

Linda Tognoni (2017)

Sandy, UT
Park Lane Elementary School

Tognoni’s innovative teaching idea, “Reach, Teach for Autism Relief,” focuses on utilizing technology and research-based methods to “reach”, engage, and effectively teach students with Autism. Through the program, students will work collaboratively to write behavior books that will give insight into autism and offer instruments of learning to other students on the Autism Spectrum. The Voya grant will provide resources that will enable children to write, illustrate, and self-publish these books. Tognoni believes that by acting as authors, illustrators, and self-publishers, students will be able to build their own self esteem while giving relief and direction to other students on the Autism Spectrum.

Danielle Bostick (2017)

Winchester, VA
John Handley High School

Bostick’s innovative teaching idea, “PBL by Students for Students,” focuses on implementing Project Based Learning (PBL) into the classroom to provide authentic, cross-curricular, relevant experiences for students – created by students. This program leverages the natural ingenuity, creativity, and enthusiasm of students by having them create cross-curricular, project-based lessons, in the form of kits, that other teachers around the district can reserve and use. Through this project, Bostick has generated an engaging environment for students, where they can develop valuable leadership and real-world skills, demonstrate their expertise in a variety of topics and take ownership of their learning.

Sonya Piper and Jennifer Youngker (2017)

Bremerton, WA
Kitsap Lake Elementary School

Piper’s and Youngker’s innovative teaching idea, “STREAM-ing Highly Capable,” focuses on giving students in a highly capable, self-contained gifted program in a low income district, the opportunity to explore science, technology, reading, engineering, arts and math (STREAM). Piper and Youngker plan to integrate these six subjects through a musical production about a great scientist, author or historical event, and intend to use the Voya grant to purchase a sound system so that it can be performed for the school and students’ parents. Whether the musical helps participants discover a love for drama or learn how to deliver a presentation, the teaching duo’s true goal is to ensure that students are engaged, solving problems, learning and having fun.

Kevin Powers and Adam Shell (2017)

Tumwater, WA

Powers’ and Shell’s innovative teaching idea, “Creative Buzz,” focuses on researching, designing, constructing and installing beehives to combat the global decline in the honeybee population. They intend to set up hives at strategic locations across the school district consortium to benefit all of the communities that send students to the New Market Skills Center. They plan to record the entire process by taking pictures, posting on social media and producing a documentary video to submit to the NFFTY Film Festival (National Film Festival for Talented Youth). Through this community-based project, the team hopes to boost the local honeybee population, facilitate collaboration between programs, and encourage community involvement among students.

Darnell Anthony, Elizabeth Knox, Sarah Roloff and Charlie Ungemach (2017)

Milwaukee, WI
Siloah Lutheran School

The team’s innovative teaching idea, “Connections: City and Tech,” focuses on studying Milwaukee’s community through projects related to technology. Students will create iBooks about Milwaukee and digital music showcasing the city’s culture. Additional content, such as videos, blogs and podcasts, will be shared with students at other local city schools. By helping students develop skills in technology and using the city to showcase their talent, Anthony and his team aim to foster community pride and self-confidence in their students. Siloah Lutheran services the poorest neighborhood in Milwaukee and the most incarcerated zip code in the nation, so the team is optimistic that this project will set students on the right path and give them hope for a brighter future.

Ryan Zunker (2017)

Valders, WI
Valders High School

Zunker’s innovative idea, “To Serve and Protect,” focuses on providing students a curriculum related to career training for public service fields. The Voya grant will allow the school to purchase the materials necessary to develop a curriculum related to public services, which can offer such classes as first aid training and FEMA certification. Zunker believes that by offering cooperative learning groups, schools give students the opportunity to explore different aspects of on-the-job training, which can in turn help them develop both 21st century skills as well as necessary soft skills.

Matthew Hicks and Stacy Meadows (2017)

Salt Rock, WV
Salt Rock Elementary School

Hicks’ and Meadows’ innovative teaching idea, “Who Let the Chickens Out?,” focuses on raising and sustaining a small colony of chickens from the start as eggs to the development as hens and roosters. Students involved in the program will learn an appreciation for Appalachian heritage while engaging in a hands-on, real-life experience to learn in a 21st century environment. The cross-curricular program will address content standards in the subjects of art, music, social studies, science, math, English, and physical education. Leveraging learnings from their research, the students will be provided with chicken eggs which they will then observe as they incubate, hatch, and grow. The students will be involved in a hands-on learning experience, providing an opportunity to learn how to manage multiple tasks at once and working together with their peers throughout the duration of the program. After the eggs hatch, the chickens will be raised accordingly both inside and outside of the classroom.

Kristin Ryan and Team (Content Area Teachers: English Language Arts (ELA), Math, Science, Social Studies, Art, and Career and Technical Education (CTE)) (2017)

Thermopolis, WY
Thermopolis Middle School

Ryan’s innovative teaching idea, “TMS Living Wax Museum,” focuses on bringing history to life by hosting an event where students dress up as historical or local individuals who have made a positive contribution to society. In preparation, students research and write biographies, prepare 30-second speeches and create appropriate backdrops for their presentations. On the night of the ‘Living Wax Museum’ event, visitors can see historical figures brought “to life” through student impersonations. In the future, Ryan and her team hope to make this a global project where students record performances and interact online via webcam interviews. Ultimately, their goal is to share this unique way of experiencing history with people around the world.

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