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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Martha Tomeo (2018)

Healy, AK
Tri-Valley School

Tomeo’s innovative teaching idea, “Mirrors & Windows/Globally Aware,” focuses on creating a global awareness and citizenship project to increase young readers' experience with diversity. The Tri-Valley School’s mission is to nurture, empower and inspire today's students to positively shape tomorrow's world. With the funds from the Voya grant, Tomea will purchase diverse books for the school’s library collection. If sufficient funds are leftover, Tomeo and her students will host one or more diverse authors, which would tremendously impact student awareness and perspective on global citizenship.

Charlsie Wigley (2018)

Chelsea, AL
Chelsea Middle School

Wigley’s innovative teaching idea, “iMarch Films,” focuses on creating an innovative interdisciplinary project that allows students at Chelsea Middle School to connect the past and present. After reading about the Civil Rights Movement, students will travel to the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute where they will observe artifacts and research local occurrences. Based on their areas of interest, groups will be paired with a community volunteer who participated in the Civil Rights Movement in the area. Students involved in the project will then interview these volunteers for the creation of an educational video focused on the volunteer's story. The final videos will then be featured in the school’s library and on the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute's website. With the Voya grant, Wigley hopes the films will be shared with other Civil Rights organizations in effort to promote awareness of courageous local unsung heroes.

Patti Haataja and Allie Norton (2018)

Mobile, AL
Covenant Christian School

Haataja’s and Norton’s innovative teaching idea, “Neuroscience Investigation,” focuses on expanding the current science and electronic programs at Covenant Christian School. With the Voya grant, students involved in the project will be able to understand brain functions by investigating, hands-on, how neurons work. Students will use innovative kits to construct electronic items that test hypotheses that they create which will demonstrate the sensitivity of neurons and muscles and how they interface with each other to react to stimuli. The students will also have an opportunity to learn about the newest technology for prosthetics and neuron activity and gain an understanding of this hands-on learning experience through “real science”.

Rushton Wood-Thuston (2018)

Center Point, AL
Erwin Intermediate School

Wood-Thuston’s innovative teaching idea, “Game On: Design Your Own Game,” focuses on creating an intersection of creative and critical thinking skills through the design of a personal video game. Recognizing the importance of technology in modern education, student involved in the project with learn how to design, build, and share their very own game. Through specific gaming lessons, Socratic circle discussions, brainstorming, and prototype creation, Wood-Thuston hopes students will learn to take a creative approach to real-world problems. Wood-Thuston will use the Voya grant to purchase necessary software and coding programs, leveraging them to enable the tech-savvy students at Erwin Intermediate to express their love of learning in a new light. Through the conceptual lens of design, Wood-Thuston hopes to teach with cutting-edge technology in the classroom and help future career paths within the high-demand gaming industry.

Cherese Smith and Catherine Epstein (2018)

Ozark, AR
Ozark Junior High School

Smith’s and Epstein’s innovative teaching idea, “Pen Pal Program,” focuses on bringing together students from rural and urban locations through a series of critical topics throughout the year. The new pen pals will be focus on writing about their personal feelings, thoughts and recognized stereotypes with the hope that these differences will be celebrated and embraced empathetically. Students involved in the project will be encouraged to discuss important issues while improving their writing, typing, social, and current event skills. With the Voya grant, Smith and Epstein will eventually be able to permit the students to travel to meet in person. This program provides an exciting opportunity to witness the conversational exchanges between students of different backgrounds and beliefs in addition to having them understand how to foster mutual respect and a deeper understanding of current issues.

Donya Hadder (2018)

Williams, AZ
Williams Elementary/Middle School

Hadder’s innovative teaching idea, “Geared for Engineering, STEAM,” focuses on revamping the Williams Elementary Middle School science program to align with new generation science standards. With the Voya grant, Hadder will develop a strong science curriculum that will reach the core of students’ critical thinking. Each week, students will spend time in a lab setting that incorporates higher level thinking skills and project- based learning. Each month, they will focus on one particular project based learning goal. By creating a maker space utilizing 3D printing technology, students involved in the project will learn to become designers and creators by using cutting edge technology to visualize and create their own imaginations.

LaFawn Berry (2018)

Queen Creek, AZ
Gateway Polytechnic Academy

Berry’s innovative teaching idea, “Books and Bots,” focuses on integrating literature and robotics with the use of children's books to allow students to program robots for certain tasks. Students involved in the project will read one of two books, dependent on their grade level, reading will pause in strategic places for a science and technology activity. The book and "bot" program will encompass approximately eight sessions. Within these sessions, students will learn how to draw scientifically, program a robot to move on command, follow specified routines and paths and test different surfaces. According to Berry, the Voya grant will allow for the purchase of necessary project elements, giving students an opportunity to connect reading and science in a unique and engaging way. By using robots to solve the problems it will build critical thinking skills while using a problem-based learning model.

Jolene Vincent (2018)

Phoenix, AZ
Desert Sands Middle School

Vincent’s innovative teaching idea, “Interviewing Military Veterans,” focuses on generating increased civic engagement through interviewing a veteran and preserving his or her story in a biography format. Students involved in the project will engage with their community through a new medium and learn about the important sacrifices made by the men and women who have served to protect our country as well as others. Students will conduct recorded veteran oral history interviews and publish the stories in an annual book with the support of the Voya grant. Most notably, the students will archive these veteran stories at the Library of Congress and attend a book signing ceremony where they will listen to stories of former military service members.

Melissa Galvan (2018)

Pomona, CA
Lincoln Elementary School

Galvan’s innovative teaching idea, “Free To Be Me,” focuses on helping students at Lincoln Elementary School navigate today’s often challenging world through the use of video. Through this project, Galvan aspires to unveil student concerns and mitigate bullying through open conversation and create a step-by-step action plan to include research, interviews, script writing, editing, video production, publishing and distribution. With the Voya grant, Galvan plans to purchase the necessary video equipment for the finished product to be distributed in digital format to the school at large. After completion of the first project, students will continue to build leadership skills, learn from their first experience and seek to involve students in other classes and grades in order to get the entire school community involved.

Julia Cole (2018)

La Mesa, CA
Murray Manor Elementary School

Cole’s innovative teaching idea, “Literacy Through Music,” focuses on involving young students physically by providing them with musical instruments to expand their knowledge, learning and memory skills. With the Voya grant, Cole will be able to purchase the necessary tools to distribute equally among all grade levels at Murray Manor Elementary as well as provide teacher training for the program. Students involved in the project will find that music can be a force for good in their elementary years, as it can increase their literacy in all academic subjects. At the beginning and end of the school year, students will be assessed on their reading level. Throughout the year, students will be taught how to play instruments, write songs and will perform for the community. Through the power of music, collaboration and engagement, Cole hopes that the students will be able to increase their reading levels and create a stronger sense of self.