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 Smith (2019)

Takotna, AK
Takotna Community School

“Arts in Academics” is Smith’s innovative idea to introduce various types of art that many students in the school have never been exposed to. The school is in a remote part of the state so students often have to fly to the nearest city for opportunities to study in art classes. Through academic assignments, students will use watercolors, acrylics, chalks, and pencils to paint, illustrate, weave, and design projects to compliment their academics. The project will allow students time outside exploring their environment and animals they live around and become visually aware of details in nature. Students will use quality materials, have quality time to design, create, and produce their artworks, and showcase their work in their community. Smith hopes the program will benefit the students in reading, math, and science as art awakens parts of the brain used for those subjects and that the students’ work will demonstrate the commitment to excellence in not only academic subjects but also in fine arts.

Beverly Sims (2019)

Northport, AL
Northside High School

Sims’ innovative teaching idea involves “Using CI to Teach Spanish”. Comprehensible Input (CI) is a teaching method with a focus on authentic communication rather than focusing on more traditional constructs. It employs techniques to make language comprehensible for students by focusing on language acquisition instead of language learning where students gain communicative competence in a second language and not just memorized vocabulary lists and grammar rules. Students have a very different learning experience than with more traditional programs. They drive the class-tailored lesson content while the teacher serves as facilitator. They learn to say the things that are most relevant to them while engaging in communicative interactions with their instructor and classmates. The content is important and relevant to them which helps with motivation and retention. Sims is excited that her students are becoming invested in learning Spanish more quickly and successfully than ever before.

Ashley Clary (2019)

Greensboro, AL
Greensboro Middle School

Clary’s innovative teaching program, “Flying Into 21st Century Math,” is designed to support the various learning levels of the students, including those 50 percent who are performing below grade level in the area of math. With school being one of their main avenues for success, innovative drones purchased with the Voya grant funds, offer an avenue to excite the students and teach math standards at the same time. Clary believes she will more effectively engage her students and increase their ability to think critically with drones. Their math lessons will focus on coding equations into an app, which will allow the drones to fly the route that students’ code. Clary will use drones to check the values of equations with her lower level students while differentiating the equations for more advanced students. Students will be able to visualize abstract concepts of algebra using the drones. Clary hopes the use of drones within the class standards will engage learners in their math instruction and increase their critical thinking skills.

Rachel Morrow (2019)

Little Rock, AR
3Stem East Village Elementary School

Morrow’s innovative teaching idea, “Wonder Lab,” focuses on exposing students to the creativity that STEM allows. The lab space will have coding tools, such as the dash robot, code-a-pillar, code and go mouse robot, math breakout room boxes, engineering mechanic sets that interact with computers, and even online programs that would allow students to create their own websites and products. Many of these projects will also entail the use of a computer, which will benefit the students’ technological skills. The Voya grant will be used in the purchase of all materials needed for the lab. Each K-6th classroom will be allotted a time slot within the lab space at an hour per week. Through this project, Morrow hopes all grade level students will have a chance to interact, be creative, and dig deeper into STEM content while also working on social skills.

Desert Sands Middle School (2019)

Phoenix, AZ
Desert Sands Middle School

The innovative teaching idea, “Personal Finance Education”, focuses on introducing middle school students to entrepreneurship by having them create a business plan for their own food truck. The student’s projects involve creating an identity and local presence for their food truck in additional to being functional. From outlining managerial tasks, running social media campaigns, conducting market research and adhering to budget restrictions, the students form a comprehensive and encompassing business plan. At the end, the students will pitch their ideas to community leaders and entrepreneurs as “investors” to foster a greater sense of community within the area. The hope is to facilitate an environment where creativity meets real world experience so the students can benefit from the wisdom of those before them in order to create a better tomorrow as the future work force

Teri Knapp (2019)

Chandler, AZ
LTS Chandler Elementary School

Knapp’s innovative teaching idea, “Text to Speech,” focuses on helping elementary students with reading disabilities or those who are English Language Learners develop reading independence and confidence. Traditionally, these students rely on an adult or peers to guide them through readings. This method results in feelings of helplessness, frustration and anxiety. To combat this and arm her students with self-efficacy, Knapp plans to utilize the Voya Grant to provide her students with C-Pen Reader devices. These special pens scan text and read it back to the children, while also giving a visual. The pen gives children the freedom to read independently and expand their understanding of the content for themselves and not distilled by another. Knapp hopes to foster motivation and confidence in her students who are at a disadvantage by giving them the tools to succeed.

Rebecca Fulop, Kati Maxkenzie, and Kasey Blackburn-Jiron (2019)

Oakland, CA
Life Academy

The team’s innovative teaching idea, “Oh Baby!” focuses on giving students a clinical perspective on how physiology is applied at the patient level. Students will attend a simulation lab in groups of 25 once a week for six weeks. During this time, they will hone their skills in applying respiratory therapy techniques, complete blood draws, practice resuscitation methods, and use personal protective equipment and learn correct hygiene techniques. They will also participate in patient scenarios, in which they will conduct hospital visits with a pregnant patient, monitor her vital signs and treat her for various digestive, respiratory and urinary ailments. To add to their experience, actual health care providers from the hospital will supervise and support students during the scenarios. Toward the end of their rotation, students will collaborate with their health care team to deliver public written and oral medical reports to hand off care to the next medical team, the next cohort of students. The culminating event is Birth Day, when they will deliver the patient’s baby via C-section, natural delivery, and epidural.

My-Nga Ingram (2019)

San Diego, CA
Westview High School

Ingram's innovative teaching idea, "What's in your Gut?" focuses on giving high school students the opportunity to participate in college-level research. The program explores the intimate relationship between diet, disease, lifestyle and the beneficial bacterial communities that reside in the stomach. Participants will work with Dr. Rob Knight from UC San Diego who will analyze student-provided samples using cutting edge technology called Next Generation Sequencing. The students will analyze the subsequent data to develop their understanding of how supplemental commercial products such as Activia and Yakult, as well as how their own lives influence their gut health. Ingram hopes to demonstrate the benefits of personalized healthcare and introduce the students to the frontier of medical research.

Julie Kusiak, Heather Papandrea, Stephanie Parisi, and Brittany Pierson (2019)

Encinitas, CA
Ocean Knoll Elementary School

This team’s innovative idea, "First Grade Farmer's Market," focuses on teaching first graders basic economical principals and financial literacy by having them crate their own fully functional farmer's market. The student's will conduct polls, market research, procure raw materials and manufacture their own stands and goods. Profit and loss will be calculated and any and all profits will be donated. The program is designed to illustrate the fundamental nature of a free market and the power of the individual choice due to scarcity. The hands-on and robust application will allow the students a solid framework of economics on which they can build upon in the future.

Carly Starn (2019)

Ventura, CA
Cabrillo Middle School

Starn’s innovative teaching idea, “Write Like a Historian,” focuses on the implementation and expansion of an online Document Based Questions (DBQ) source program, which currently is only offered to eighth graders. Starn’s aim is to expand the program to the rest of the middle school to create a consistent and reliable writing development tool that fosters grade appropriate growth. The program allows for both guided and independent conclusions to be drawn to appeal to both advanced and special education students. To further develop critical thinking skills, the program institutes projects such as essays or multimedia presentations so students can demonstrate their understanding of the topic in both structured and creative ways. The long term results are students who are better equipped for high school level writing and analysis in a world that is constantly evolving around them.