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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Tomey McGowen (2018)

Taylor, TX
Taylor High School

McGowen’s innovative teaching idea, “Ducks Educational Tools,” focuses on providing the students at Taylor High School the ability to communicate proficiently in American Sign Language (ASL). Students involved in the project will develop an understanding of the nature of language, including grammar and culture. They will engage in a variety of signed exchanges that provide information, expressing feelings and preferences while exchanging ideas and opinions. With the Voya grant, McGowen is able to purchase the necessary tools to help the students achieve their optimum potential. Through mastering ASL, McGowen hopes students will enhance their interpersonal communication skills, empathy, and appreciation of others who might be different from themselves.

Erika Malcom, Joslyn Maldonado and Krystal Ince (2018)

The Colony, TX
Prestwick STEM Academy

The team’s innovative teaching idea, “Integrating STEM Into All Subjects,” focuses on creating a program for the students at Prestwick STEM Academy to be able to give back to the community in different ways. Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) instruction is becoming increasingly important in our world. Students at Prestwick STEM Academy need to learn how to collaborate and communicate effectively, become problem solvers and create innovative products and solutions. With the Voya grant, the group plans to build a curriculum across all subjects that incorporates these ideas through STEM principles. By building units as service projects, students will learn how to use their learning to help others. Students involved in the project will have an opportunity to learn different ways to problem solve a situation and how to collaborate with others in a group.

Sandra Campbell and Karina Echeverry (2018)

Murray, UT
Horizon Elementary School

Campbell’s and Echeverry’s innovative teaching idea, “Enhanced Dual Immersion,” focuses on helping the students at Horizon Elementary become proficient in a second language. There can often be many challenges to learning a new language, even more so when teaching young children. To help combat this obstacle, Campbell and Echeverry plan to leverage a wireless microphone system with speakers to use in the classroom to help the students stay focused. With the Voya grant, the team will purchase the necessary tools to create teaching strategies that will help the students develop the ability to read, write, speak, and listen in another language.

Jeffrey Pedersen (2018)

Blacksburg, VA
Blacksburg High School

Pedersen’s innovative teaching idea, “History Puzzle Rooms,” focuses on developing critical thinking and collaboration skills for the students at Blacksburg High School. Throughout the school year, students involved in the project will work to design their own content-themed “Puzzle Rooms” and take on various leadership roles as they create a narrative and theme for each room, design key “plot points” and create physical or digital clues. The Voya grant will go towards providing the necessary resources for the project’s creation to put students in the role of developers, challenging them to innovate and leverage their knowledge and project skills. Pedersen hopes that History Puzzle Rooms will provide a significant shift towards skills-based learning, which is transferable to many other settings.

Ashley Lucke (2018)

Everett, WA
Challenger Elementary School

Lucke’s innovative teaching idea, “STEM/Robotics Program,” focuses on building a comprehensive coding and robotics program at Challenger Elementary School. Students at all grade levels, Kindergarten and beyond, will have an opportunity to learn the fields of coding and robotics, as well as generating interest in pursuing additional opportunities in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM). Students involved in the project will also learn about STEM career opportunities while further exploring their interests and ability levels with each STEM component in a safe, nurturing and familiar environment at their elementary school.

The Outdoor Classroom Project (2018)

Sultan, WA
Sultan High School

Monger’s innovative teaching idea, “The Outdoor Classroom Project,” focuses on incorporating science learning within the context of nature and the local Sultan High School landscape through the use of an outdoor classroom. Students involved in the project will have different opportunities to learn about science while engaging in hands-on activities. For example, when learning about photosynthesis, students will tap local maple trees in order to taste the sugar being made in the process, or when learning ecology, students will measure the local river to see if the conditions are suitable for the release of hatchery salmon; and so on. The outdoor classroom project will include a pond, a native plant museum, vegetable gardens, a chicken coop, an orchard, a covered outdoor classroom, a salmon hatchery, forest restoration, and trails. With the Voya grant, Monger’s outdoor classroom experience will help students discover new ways of protecting and caring for natural resources.

Jennifer Wolfe, Brett Wilfrid, and Joanna Whitrock (2018)

Madison, WI
Sandburg Elementary School

The team’s innovative teaching idea, “Kinesthetic Learning Lab,” focuses on teaching comprehensive brain health. With the financial support of the Voya grant, the Kinesthetic Learning Lab (KLL) will provide exercise space and equipment to teach the students at Sandburg Elementary how to physically manage their brain health. Students involved in the project will also learn the importance of proper nutrition and how to feed their brains. The program focus will address the health needs of all students as a way to level the playing field for all children. According to the team, KLL students will not be graded, but they will be encouraged to be the best they can be for their own lifelong benefit. The team hopes this approach will enable students to return to class reenergized, emotionally regulated and ready to internalize core content.

Toni Poling (2018)

Fairmont, WV
Fairmont Senior High School

Poling’s innovative teaching idea, “Book Love,” focuses on creating positive attitudes around reading by increasing students’ stamina and level of comprehension. With the funds from the Voya grant, Poling will provide access to independent reading material that is contemporary and of high-interest. According to Poling, she has already begun to help students calculate their individual reading speeds, set personal weekly reading goals and track their progress. Students involved in the project will be able to hone their skills in a critical area that no school funds have been set aside for yet. Through this project, Poling hopes to expand her classroom library and train the minds of students at Fairmont Senior High School to develop a passion for reading.

Jill Lucero (2018)

Cheyenne, WY
East High School

Lucero’s innovative teaching idea, “Don’t Delay – Invest Today,” focuses on creating a financial lab for the students at East High School. The Voya Grant will give students the opportunity to participate in a mock stock market experience, allowing them to invest and learn real-world skills. The lab will consist of a ticker display, an interactive screen, and entry fees for the stock market simulation. Students will be able to see real-time values of the stocks in which they are investing, providing an opportunity to enhance their market knowledge by constantly showing the ups and downs of the market. The screen will display live charts, financial news and students’ investment portfolios, helping to create a financial market wall that will allow students to teach each other about their investments.

James Stith (2018)

Newcastle, WY
Newcastle High School

Stith’s innovative teaching idea, “Spreading Coding in Wyoming,” focuses on providing circuitry and coding education for the students at Newcastle High School as well as professional development opportunities for teachers of other schools around the state. With the Voya grant, Stith will be able to purchase the necessary Arduino-based classroom kits and deliver them to schools around the state. Wyoming's Legislature has recently expressed a need and desire to include coding as part of the Wyoming Public School curriculum, as it ranks as one of the lowest in the nation in AP computer science scores. To help support this, Stith will provide mentorship and educational opportunities to go with the kits, offering basic knowledge on circuitry and coding.