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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Amanda Schwarz and Christine Hurley (2016)

Williamsport, MD
Springfield Middle School

Schwarz’s and Hurley’s innovative teaching idea, “Genius Hour,” is focused on empowering students to select a topic that inspires them and apply the skills they learn in science and project execution to develop a product from start to finish. Students will first pick a research topic, create several inquiry questions and then submit a proposal. Once approved, Schwarz and Hurley will act as facilitators and provide guidance to students as they work to bring their product to life. The type of projects students will undertake is only limited by their imagination, but most will likely focus on computer programming, robotics and engineering. The teaching duo hopes students will learn to apply their talents to topics they are passionate about while also becoming better critical thinkers.

Daisy Rayela (2016)

Lanham, MD
Thomas Johnson Middle School

Rayela’s innovative teaching idea, “TJMS STEM Innovation Lab,” is focused on building a creative, customized lab space for students to engage in independent, hands-on learning and design. The idea for a new lab space was conceptualized when STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) students were asked to design a lab space where they would love to work – and the result was one centered on modern technology and innovation. With the equipment to execute ideas such as 3D models, prosthetic arms, and flying machines, students will be able to create innovative solutions to complex, real-life local and global problems. Rayela believes that this lab will teach students how to identify problems; how to research, explore and design solutions; and will develop the mindset of a collaborator, innovator, engineer and scientist.

Sherri Baron, Christy Crowley and Karen Kantolak (2016)

Sanford, ME
Lafayette Elementary School

The team’s innovative idea, “Squanto’s Squad,” is focused on integrating hands on learning with technology. Elementary students at Lafayette Elementary School will learn about Squanto, an indigenous man who helped the pilgrims during their first visit to the North America, and aquaponics, which is a sustainable practice for communities and schools. They will compare the  similarities in the agricultural practices of the 1600's to today's modern aquaponics practices. The project combines history, geography, science, math and technology to help students understand the importance of sustainability, planting, and healthy eating practices.

Sean Kellogg (2016)

Benton Harbor, MI
Countryside Academy

Kellogg’s innovative teaching idea, “Sunny Side Up Chickens,” is focused on expanding a current project dedicated to raising chickens in the school’s chicken coop. This program is based off of FARE (Food, Agriculture, Renewable Resources and Environment) curriculum. Previously, students in Kellogg’s class nurtured and watched chickens hatch from eggs, and are now tasked with taking care, and maintaining upkeep, of the chickens and the coop outside. In addition to learning responsibility through these chores, students also gather eggs and sell them to buy food and other supplies for their chickens – teaching them the value of hard work. Kellogg is passionate about extending this program to provide additional learning opportunities; a larger covered area outside to host projects, and greater resources, so that students are exposed to an even more valuable experience.

Betty Tramper (2016)

Morley, MI
Morley Stanwood Elementary School

Tramper’s innovative teaching idea, “Go, Bots, Go!”, is focused on launching a robotics and coding program integrated into the regular school day for fifth-grade students at Morley Stanwood Elementary. Due to limited funding for technology, the school has not been able to provide advanced opportunity for students to interact with technology in new and creative ways. Tramper currently leads a club focused on robotics and coding, but with the grant funds, there is expanded opportunity to provide materials to launch a course dedicated to the program. Students will be able to benefit from hands-on technology learning opportunities that will build skills that extend past their elementary school days.

Nicole Samuel, Charles Beattie, Charlie Smith and Stayce Dowlen (2016)

Detroit, MI
John R. King Academy

The team’s innovative teaching idea, “Outdoor Environmental Center,” is focused on engaging students in a better understanding of the environment in which they live. Students will use weather stations and tools to investigate real world scenarios, exploring the conditions that are suitable for sustaining animal and plant life and determining differences in air quality. Students will also have the opportunity to examine other factors in nature, such as rocks, minerals, soil and plants that have changed over time due to natural occurrences – while also uncovering these types of natural events. A mock environment will be designed to create a hands-on learning experience for students, to ensure they develop independence, student autonomy and greater understanding of the connection between nature and their daily lives.

Brian Knox (2016)

St. Paul, MN
Central High School

Knox’s innovative teaching idea, “DJ Learning Studio,” will teach students how to operate equipment used by professional DJs (disc jockeys) to develop their music production and sound technology skills. The project will expand on an existing three-course, music production sequence offered at the high school. The students will focus on three areas: 1) learn to set up and use basic DJ tools of the trade, 2) acquire the skills to creatively and professionally share music in live events, and 3) serve their school community by providing DJ services for school events. This project will provide students who did not have the opportunity to learn an instrument during the crucial elementary or middle school years with a path for arts and music learning. Additionally, Knox hopes the program will help students discover if they have an interest in pursuing a career in the 21st century music industry.

Sarah Fritzke, Lanae McClellan, Kelly Pongratz, Andrea Bandholz and Lyndsey Steele (2016)

Jordan, MN
Jordan Elementary School

The team’s innovative teaching idea, “Connecting Through Cardboard,” is focused on providing a “Google Cardboard” virtual reality technology experience to the students at Jordan Elementary School. Through the use of this new technology, students will have the ability to visit ancient cities around the world, travel to outer space, swim deep in the ocean, and much more. Shared experiences within a classroom develop a sense of community and comfort that provide students with the ability to take on safe risks and push their learning to new levels. Through the new Google Cardboard technology, students will be able to fuse these two invaluable components of learning together and soar to new heights. The team hopes that by strengthening the students' background knowledge and weaving shared experiences with classmates together through virtual reality, the understandings of language arts, social studies, science, and the world itself will flourish.

Timothy Ryan and Robert Huitt (2016)

Florissant, MO
McCluer North High School

Ryan’s and Huitt’s innovative teaching idea, “’Dig’ Archaeology,” is focused on introducing 12th-grade honors students from McCluer North High School to the rigors of archaeological inquiry and practice as it relates to a primary historical site within the Florissant city limits. Students will create an entire civilization from scratch, including a language, artifacts, government, art, religion, and much more using their specific interests and skill sets in a multi-small group format. They then bury the civilization and employ the tools and techniques of archaeology to excavate the trenches, decipher languages, and reconstruct the imagined opposing civilization in order to demonstrate mastery of the skills and concepts taught in the course during a final presentation of their findings. The excavation process will provide students with a thorough and practical knowledge of the practices inherent in New World Archaeology.

Theresa Bieg (2016)

Wildwood, MO
St. Alban Roe Catholic School

Bieg’s innovative teaching idea, “Mastermind Mania,” is focused on providing students with a curriculum, taught during dedicated classroom time that enables students to be innovators and young leaders, eager to discover new ideas. The grant will enable the school to purchase materials and technology that allow students to create and design through inquiry-based learning rooted in critical thinking and problem solving. Bieg believes this approach promotes the development of cooperative learning, social competency, communication skills, thinking processes and independence. Equally as important, she thinks it also teaches students not to fear failure – because out of failure comes the opportunity to learn, invent and create original ideas, which she believes will develop real-world skills in St. Alban Roe Catholic School’s students.