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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Sheryl Neibert, Barbara Peregrine, Tyler Marsh and Tim Loughmiller (2016)

Morocco, IN
North Newton Junior and Senior High School

The team’s innovative teaching idea, “Blackout-No Technology,” is focused on helping students survive and excel without relying on modern conveniences. The team’s first step will be to help students recognize our society’s dependence on technology. To do this, the group will purchase pedometers to help students track and calculate the distance each of them live from school — to show students the challenge of getting to and from school in a world without technology. The students will also create survival brochures and packets to place at key locations across the county to raise awareness. Additionally, the school will host a “Blackout Day” where students will have to leave their electronics at home. The project culminates with students camping overnight at a local YMCA, which will focus on team building, communication skills and survival activities. The goal is to empower students to have confidence in themselves without relying on modern technology.

Jessica Popescu (2016)

Topeka , KS
Seaman High School

Popescu’s innovative teaching idea, “Biology: Game On,” is focused on developing board games to motivate her students embrace scientific inquiry. This yearlong project will engage students at the beginning of each unit with a challenging board game that relates directly to the curriculum. The board games will mimic real-life situations or scientific careers — such as researching dangerous viruses or creating new molecular compounds. In addition to providing a fun learning environment, these board games will give Popescu’s students valuable insight into the requirements and obstacles professionals in STEM-related fields (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) face each day. Additionally, she hopes it will teach her students how to problem solve and think critically.

Nikki Flinn and Jason Curtis (2016)

Lincoln , KS
Lincoln Junior and Senior High School

Flinn’s and Curtis’ innovative teaching idea, “Paw Print,” is focused on teaching students the responsibility of managing and operating their own small business. The students will work together to run a screen-printing business called Paw Print, which will make items such as shirts, pants, sweatshirts, hats and other apparel. Students will learn customer service and sales skills, how to calculate product demand, and understand the importance of timely project completion. The money generated from this small business will be given back to the school and local community, and a portion of the revenue will be used to offer a scholarship for students who complete the program. Flinn and Curtis hope the business will teach students the value of a strong work ethic, dependability and giving through volunteerism — all of which are lifelong skills.

Jenna Yuenger (2016)

Villa Hills, KY
Villa Madonna Academy

Yuenger’s innovative teaching idea, “Full STEAM Ahead,” is focused on creating an environment where learning happens in a hands-on and motivational way. She believes in today's world, students need to be equipped with STEAM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) knowledge, as well as the creative problem-solving skills necessary to be innovative and creative thinkers. The “Full STEAM Ahead” program is designed for participants to discover their talents and cement learning from the classroom. Through the program, Villa Madonna Academy will be able to enhance the teaching and learning process by providing innovative tools for kindergarten through sixth-grade students in circuitry, engineering, computer programming, and robotics.

Steven Martell (2016)

New Castle, KY
Henry County Middle School

Martell’s innovative teaching idea, “Soar Into Math,” is focused on providing mathematics education in a fully immersive flight-training environment by engaging students in hands-on activities directly related to flight. Students not only learn core mathematics concepts, but also how those concepts relate to real world situations. Those situations will range from flight planning and principles of flight to managing resources and running a virtual airline. Martell believes the program will be a great benefit for students who struggle with finding real-world connections to concepts such as slope, integers, and systems of simultaneous equations. By providing opportunities to use mathematics in a controlled but engaging hands-on environment, he hopes students will succeed in understanding the importance of math in the world around them.

Danielle Beneville (2016)

New Orleans, LA
KIPP Central City Primary School

Beneville’s innovative teaching idea, “iPads for Persistent Readers,” is focused on using Apple iPads for the reading intervention of students in KIPP Central City Primary School. With an abundance of apps and technological aids available in the digital marketplace, the sky is the limit for differentiation. Apple iPads will allow Beneville to meet the needs of each and every learner in her classroom, including struggling readers who are disinterested in the subject. New technology is constantly emerging every day, and Beneville believes these technologies will assist in helping the students learn what they need to succeed. 

Carolyn Milford (2016)

Bossier City, LA
Stockwell Place Elementary School

Milford’s innovative teaching idea, “Chromebook 1:1 Community,” is focused on using technology to help students achieve their best in the classroom and become life-long learners. The program will give students in grades second, third and fourth access to Chromebooks to use on a daily basis. Students and teachers will collaborate in small groups and use the Chromebooks to work on assignments, projects and discussions through Google Classroom and other educational sites. In addition to providing better collaboration and giving individual students the freedom to work at their own pace, teachers will have more time to work one-on-one with students who need additional assistance. Milford hopes the project will show her elementary school students the power technology can play in helping them achieve their educational goals.

Laverne Mickens (2016)

Springfield, MA
Rebecca Johnson Elementary School

Mickens’ innovative teaching idea, “Motivation Through Movement,” is focused on integrating dance and drama into the school’s daily curriculum, as well as in separate classes, dedicated to this field, and after school clubs.  She believes participation in the arts, including activities that involve movement, motion, acting and poetry, often increases students’ attendance, test scores, attitude and behavior. While educators do not often incorporate tactual and kinesthetic experiences into the school day, she thinks they are critical to helping students learn, especially at a young age. Mickens believes that children learn immensely from touching, feeling, moving and experiencing, thus increase motivation and academic achievement in students.

Charlotte Corbett, Brian Gibson, Jeremiah Ford and Thomas Lally (2016)

Allston, MA
Horace Mann School for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing

The team’s innovative teaching idea, “Deaf Makerspace,” is focused on converting an existing computer lab into an interactive makerspace where deaf students create and demonstrate 21st century skills. The progressive program, called the Creative Learning Commons (CLC), will use math, information technology, and engineering to help break down barriers for deaf students to succeed and prepare for future careers. Horace Mann School for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing already uses various advanced technologies such as robotics and 3D printers in classrooms, and plans to continue their unique, forward-thinking curriculum by adding on the CLC.

Emmajean Quinn (2016)

Plymouth, MA
Plymouth Public School

Quinn’s innovative teaching idea, “LiterAACy,” is focused on allowing students who use Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) to communicate and have multiple learning needs, to experience and study literacy skills through multisensory books and magazines. The students, who do not come to school with the same language and literacy experiences as their peers, will have the opportunity to experience books that not only have words but also have the picture symbols they use in them as well. Often times, their experiences have been around medical or therapeutic activities. Many students have had limited experiences or exposure with listening to stories, songs and/or books. To allow all the students to engage in reading one of the adapted books, there would be several versions of the books created including digital versions, simplified text versions, story box versions with tactile props and picture symbol paired with written word versions. This library would allow students with significant disabilities, the capability to freely choose from a variety of books to read, and interact with or listen to beyond the standard one or two within the classroom library.