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.

Keyword Search

Suzanne Fernandez-Pellon (2013)

Chicago, IL
Dever Elementary School

Fernandez-Pellon’s innovative program idea, “Your Great Lake”, is designed to help kindergarten and first grade students take ownership of their own learning as well as become the sources of information for learning interactions that happen between the grades. It will bring to life disciplines such as language arts, math, science, and social studies to explore how water is used, especially the water from the Great Lakes, one of the most important freshwater resources on Earth. Students will get the chance to follow a water cycle journey from the Earth’s surface to atmosphere to underground and back again. Demonstrations and hands-on activities will allow students to understand how precious the Earth’s fresh water is and what can be done to conserve it. Students will make predictions about their own water use and then measure it. They also will get a chance to develop their writing skills by writing stories after their visit to Lake Michigan and Volo Bog. Fernandez-Pellon, who lives in Oak Park, hopes her creative program will help her students make connections between experiences and content knowledge.

Lindsay Kaplan, Riva Cohen, Julie Gelfond, Andrew Hirt, Linda Kogan, Ann Schneiderman (2013)

Chicago, IL
Bernard Zell Anshe Emet Day School

“What’s Bugging You?: An Interactive Insect Unit” is Kaplan and her colleagues’ winning innovative program idea. The comprehensive, six-week unit is designed to introduce kindergarteners to the world of insects through engaging and interactive lessons. Students will study ants, bees, butterflies, ladybugs, and lice – learning their life cycles, their importance on Earth, and the need to preserve their environments. Through songs and gestures, students will first learn the general anatomy of insects. They will then learn about ants and how they form colonies, followed by bees and their engineering skills. Students will even get a visit from a guest bee keeper, learning about specific roles and responsibilities of the bees. They also will create a bee hive from toilet paper tubes. Different shapes of pasta will be used to create models of the butterfly life cycle, and students will learn the value of ladybugs to the environment. Even lice will get an up-close and personal encounter by the students when viewed under a microscope. Kaplan and her teammates hope the songs, dances, role-playing, literature, guest speakers, field trips, and model making will encourage learning and comprehension of the value of insects.

Michael Soares (2013)

Pontiac, IL
Pontiac Township High School

“Operation Endangered Species”, Soares’ winning program, is an eight-year endangered species recovery effort to raise and reintroduce mixed-age class Alligator Snapping Turtles (AST) (Macrochelys temminckii) back into their natural, historic habitats in southern Illinois. The genesis of the program began with research Soares read that indicated no ASTs have been detected in Illinois since 1984. Through the student-driven and developed program, students at Pontiac Township High School and in classrooms throughout Illinois will be able to raise, monitor and take vital statistics to ensure the vitality of the ASTs prior to their release. This real-world citizen scientist program is designed to save a species from extinction, inspire students to excel in the classroom and springboard them into their futures as informed decision makers through the cooperative efforts of their classmates, community members, businesses, teachers, local agencies and numerous foundations. The anticipated AST release areas include the Clear Creek and Big Muddy River drainage areas in southern Illinois. Soares lives in Bloomington.

Sheila Edstrom (2013)

Lincolnshire, IL
Adlai E. Stevenson High School

“Kids, Cars, and Kinematics” is Edstrom’s winning program that is designed to bring the description of motion to life through hands-on experience in her physics classes. Through the use of wireless units attached to high-speed remote control cars, the students measure the changes in acceleration, velocity and vertical displacement, and map out the paths taken by the cars through an analysis of the data captured. Additionally, some of the more experienced students will be able to use the devices to explore everything from the motion of a gymnast flipping and twisting through air to the arm movements of a cellist playing music. Edstrom, who lives in Tower Lakes, hopes her program provides hands-on experiences that allow her students to construct meaningful interpretations of every day motion.

Christine Pendleton and Nancy Zook (2013)

Chicago, IL
YCCS – Community Christian Alternative Academy

Pendleton and Zook’s winning program idea, “Solar Aquaponics”, involves having their students create and build a solar-powered turbine to  eventually power an aquaponics system. Students in the college preparatory courses that have a thematic emphasis on urban agriculture and  ecology will build solar panels using aluminum cans. Student-led agricultural components include creating an aquaponics system involving  1,500 gallons of water with 800 tilapia for year-round production. It also includes transforming 12 vacant lots into urban gardens,  composting, vermiculture (using worms to produce nutrient-rich, organic soil), and water conservation. Through this program, students  will learn how to convert solar energy into electrical energy as well as the mechanics of an aquaponics system. They also will get to  measure the reduction of the school’s carbon footprint and create a plan to use renewable energy for the entire school. Ultimately,  Pendleton and Zook hope their students will connect theory to real life and increase student achievement and engagement.