Congratulations to all of our Voya Unsung Heroes winners. Each year, 50 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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Susan Walton (2018)

Oakland, CA
Montera Middle School

Walton’s innovative teaching idea, “Act Out on Stage, Not in Class,” focuses on supporting creativity in the area of theater art. Students involved in the project will have an opportunity to become leaders in a positive manner by engaging in more choice-making. Many students today at Montera Middle School struggle with a lack of confidence and often exhibit "acting out” behavior when stressed. By creating an opportunity to write in small groups, share feelings about bullying and their differences, the students will have an opportunity to reclaim their self-worth. With the Voya grant, Walton will purchase the unique and necessary materials to support scriptwriting, costume creation, mask making and props, providing the students with a real-life experience. Through the project, Walton wants to help her students understand the importance of being a participant in a play inclusive of writing, costume design, lighting and acting. 

Marcia Barryte (2018)

Carson, CA
Carson High School

Barryte’s innovative teaching idea, “History Through Musical Theatre,” focuses on showcasing the importance of history to musical theater storylines through all stage and screen productions. Students involved in the project will be challenged to convey history through set, lighting, sound, and costume design. With the support of the Voya grant, Barryte hopes to achieve her  goal of bringing the musical "Guys and Dolls" to the Carson High School stage; a golden oldie that captures the New York "underworld" of gangsters, gamblers, and other colorful and often stereotypical characters. Leveraging a history-based approach, she will ask students to defend all vocal, acting, and instrumental choices, permitting students to clearly see the role history takes in shaping theater.

Robin Newsom-Wuertz and Jessica Parker (2018)

Carlsbad, CA
Sage Creek High School

Newsom-Wuertz’s and Parker’s innovative teaching idea, “Peer to Peer Teaching,” focuses on supporting student's second language development through the use of video production, website creation and peer to peer teaching and learning. Students involved in the project will work to design a website and materials that connect to American Sign Language (ASL), deaf culture, and deaf history. The learning involves the individual exchange of abilities, experience and communication in order to create a final product. With the Voya grant, students will create a website of information showcasing what they have learned while using authentic community signers. The website will be shared to help inspire and increase proficiency in ASL programs throughout the country as resources for authentic, native signers can be limited.

Daniel McKinney (2018)

Menifee, CA
Santa Rosa Academy

McKinney’s innovative teaching idea, “Hydrorecyverticuture,” focuses on placing students in the role of agricultural engineers who strive to maximize crop yields while minimizing resource consumption. Students are tasked with designing, building, and evaluating an original solar powered, vertical, recirculating plant propagation system. Through this project, McKinney will demonstrate the problem of an increasing human population taxed by decreasing fresh water, arable land, labor and other resources, while engaging the students in helping to find a solution. McKinney believes in the importance of facilitating an authentic STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math)-based experiences for his students by promoting research, construction, plant propagation, and data analysis skills.

Maria Teresita Aniag (2018)

Los Angeles, CA
New Designs Charter School - Watts

Aniag’s innovative teaching idea, “Build A House,” focuses on harnessing the creativity and problem-solving skills of her students through the design and construction of a miniature 3D version of a house. Through applying area, perimeter and geometry skills, Aniag hopes students involved in the project will leverage their own imagination to design a truly unique structure. The activity will focus on designing elements, challenging students to apply prior knowledge, and collaborating in the classroom. Students will be required to design a house that contains at least 20 different pieces of furnishings and then find the area and perimeter of each item. Through the support of the Voya grant, Aniag will be able to help her students discover real-world application of math concepts used in building, the power of imagination and creativity, and the impact of problem-solving strategies.

Thea Garcia and Ruth Malignaggi (2018)

La Puente, CA
Nogales High School

Garcia’s and Malignaggi’s innovative teaching project, “Literate Poets,” focuses on foster literacy through poetry and performance. With the Voya grant, Garcia and Malignaggi will promote a passion for literacy through the spoken word, through an existing initiative known as the “Get Lit Program.” This program, with the support of the Voya grant, will be expanded to the school’s 300 students and provide funding to support a school-wide poetry competition, promoting literacy for all students. The goal of this project is to connect to students in a way that promotes the spoken word and inspires creativity, a quality that is sought out by many employers. Success will be measured by increased participation and an increase in English grades and writing skills.

Tanya Ilela and Sybil Owens (2018)

Aurora, CO
Hinkley High School

Ilela’s and Owen’s innovative teaching idea, “African American Male Empowerment & Success (AAMES),” focuses on providing the necessary tools for African American students at Hinkley High School to be able to overcome the opportunity gap faced within the community. With the hopes of catalyzing socioeconomic progress, AAMES leaders will meet daily to build core competencies in areas such as leadership, social and emotional health, Black history, communications and marketing, and finances. Through a strategic mentorship enabled by the Voya grant, college students will work with the Hinkley High School students to implement these projects and develop strengths-based leadership skills. Ilela and Owens aspire to empower this group of students to be successful and change the narrative, and that there will be an emergence of young AAMES Leaders in the community.

Ben Graves (2018)

Delta, Co
Delta High School

Graves’ innovative teaching idea, “Delta High School Solar Lab,” focuses on generating community awareness and changing attitudes around the necessity of fossil fuels through hands-on technical training. Students involved in the project will design, install and monitor solar electricity using a diversity of demonstration equipment. Solar Energy Training is a unique vocational partnership with a local solar energy training center that prepares students for careers in alternative energy production, electrical engineering and environmental science. With the support of the Voya grant, the solar energy training program at Delta High School will provide opportunities for invaluable experiential learning. Graves hopes to engage students in all stages of construction from research to commissioning the system, to cultivate a real-world, holistic engineering experience.

Maggie Chesser (2018)

Golden, CO
Shelton Elementary School

Chesser’s innovative teaching idea, “Coyote Construction Corner,” focuses on creating an engineering and technology makerspace at Shelton Elementary School. Students involved in the project will use materials to complete engineering design challenges ranging from STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math)-based picture book activities to engineering and curriculum-based problems. Students will create prototypes of possible wildlife bridges before coding robots to cross the bridges, testing for durability and design implications. Each classroom at Shelton will print a final prototype and present their final designs and research findings. The Shelton 3D Problem Bank will also invite students to design a solution to school issues or needs. According to Chesser, any student involved in the program will have an opportunity to accept the challenge, research and design solutions, print and test prototypes, and print the products for use.

Tifiny Howard (2018)

Highlands Ranch, CO
SkyView Academy

Howard’s innovative teaching idea, “Modeling with Algebra 2,” focuses on exploring functions through hands on experimentation and data collection. Students involved in the project will investigate linear relationships by measuring the mass and volume of several liquids, graph the data, and determine an equation for each substance. They will have less guidance from the teachers and will determine their answers using algebraic and graphical methods. In addition, they will be encouraged to explore additional avenues of interest. These experiences will enable the students to develop a deeper understanding of these concepts and create additional connections across the curriculum. Howard hopes the program will encourage students to take the math out of the classroom and apply it to their real lives.