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.

2019

Brooke Borreson and Nicki Larson (2019)

Buda, TX
Ralph Pfluger Elementary School

First Place Winner
$27,000

Brooke Borreson and Nicki Larson from Ralph Pfluger Elementary School in Buda, Texas, are awarded a grant for $27,000 as the first-place winners of Voya’s Unsung Heroes program. Voya Financial’s David Bowman, regional vice president, Tax-Exempt Markets, and Jon Reilly, head of Core Sales and Distribution, Tax-Exempt Markets (pictured on left and right), presented the check to the teachers. The toys pictured are switch-adapted toys for students with special needs and disabilities developed as a part of the teachers’ “Switch It!” program.

Bryan Haecker (2019)

San Antonio, TX
Earl Warren High School

Second Place Winner
$12,000

Haecker’s innovative teaching idea, “Sleep in Heavenly Peace,” involves supporting a local volunteer organization that is dedicated to building, assembling and delivering top-notch bunk beds to children and families in need. Haecker believes all children deserve a safe, comfortable place to lay their heads. In San Antonio, Texas and across the country, boys and girls go without a bed-or even a pillow-to sleep on. These children end up sleeping on couches, blankets, and even floors. This can affect their happiness and their health. Through this program, Haecker, along with his students in his high school wood shop, will be able to help Sleep in Heavenly Peace by building bunk beds with his students and providing not only the labor to build the beds, but also helping to deliver and assemble the beds at the houses for the families. Ultimately, the students will be giving back to families in need, while using skills they learned in class.

Desert Sands Middle School (2019)

Phoenix, AZ
Desert Sands Middle School

Third Place Winner
$7,000

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

2018

Chad Powers and Roxanne Schmiesing (2018)

New London, MN
New London-Spicer High School

First Place Winner
$27,000

Powers’ and Schmiesing’s innovative teaching idea, “Tomorrow’s Heroes,” focuses on implementing an elective EMT course at New London-Spicer High School as well as CPR courses at the middle school level. These courses will include demonstrations, hands-on practice, opportunities at volunteer or paid-on-call departments, and certification tests to be registered as first responders. Students will develop skills in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM)-focused careers and technical education, medical background, and community service. This will allow the students to become an asset to the local community, law enforcement agencies and fire departments nationwide. Through the support of the Voya grant, Powers and Schmiesing will provide students these opportunities to begin serving their communities and our nation.

Deidre Rabuck (2018)

Baltimore, MD
Kennedy Krieger Lower/Middle School

Second Place Winner
$12,000

Rabuck’s innovative teaching idea, “Fairmount News Station,” focuses on giving the students at Kennedy Krieger Lower Middle School who have learning, behavioral, and physical disabilities the opportunity to write, produce, and star in the school’s morning announcement “news series.” With a goal of mirroring an authentic, local news broadcast, students will create the content of the show, prepare written scripts, create background scenes, record the broadcast and deliver the finished newscasts to each of the school’s classrooms. With the Voya grant, Rabuck will create the on-campus news station, an engaging and interactive vehicle for students to move outside of their comfort zones, work cooperatively, and master a variety of new skills.

Lacey Hoosier (2018)

Deville, LA
Buckeye High School

Third Place Winner
$7,000

Hoosier’s innovative teaching idea, “STEM & Medicine for Rural Kids,” focuses on exposing rural, underprivileged students to vital Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) and medical anatomical topics. To ignite an interest in these relevant subjects, students in grades 9-12, along with rotations of students in grades 6-8, will have the opportunity to participate in hands-on STEM labs, anatomy and physiology based lessons, robotics and Science Bowl team competitions. With the Voya grant, Hoosier plans to purchase the necessary school supplies to begin building a strong science program that will spark excitement in the next generation of scientists and doctors. Through exposure to the medical field and disorders of the human body, Hoosier hopes to broaden the knowledge-base and increase the confidence of her students.

2017

Ding-ay Tadena (2017)

Hawthorne, CA
Hawthorne High School

First Place Winner
$27,000

Tadena’s innovative teaching idea, “When Geometry Meets Fashion,” is focused on connecting “left brain and right brain” skills and applies a Project-Based Learning (PBL) strategy in her geometry classes. Students apply the math skills they have developed from Tadena’s class to the study of music, art and fashion design. The Voya grant will allow Tadena to provide materials for a diverse array of mathematical art projects, including drawing, painting, fashion and accessory design, and more. Tadena believes by understanding and applying the crossovers between arts and mathematics, students will be able to find color, glamour and beauty in what is sometimes considered a mundane subject. With her award grant, Tadena plans to purchase items for the program, including dress forms, expandable body forms, mannequins, sewing machines, assorted textiles, 3-D printers and art materials. These items will help ensure the continued success of the program for years to come and will allow other teachers to utilize the resources so they can also discover the joy of arts integration into other subjects.

Laurie Burns (2017)

Blairstown, NJ
North Warren Regional High School

Second Place Winner
$12,000

Burns’ innovative teaching idea, “Heroes Forever,” is challenging students to compile interviews and oral histories from the veterans of the Blairstown community. Students will be tasked with interviewing veterans personally, utilizing technology resources to film and record interviews, as well as photographs and artifacts, and developing a comprehensive understanding of the historical context that surrounds their veterans. The students will then use these materials to collectively create a video and electronic archive of their community’s rich and personal war history. Burns believes that by historicizing the community’s own veterans in this manner, students are able to engage with an integrated, multi-disciplinary approach to learning that encompasses technology, history, team-building, leadership and communication. The result, she believes, will be a unique and significant learning product for generations to come.

Monica Alicea (2017)

Marietta, GA
Cheatham Hill Elementary School

Third Place Winner
$7,000

Alicea’s innovative teaching idea, “Serving 4 Cause, Farm 2 Table,” focuses on hosting a dinner to benefit the Must Ministries “Save it Forward” program. The school’s staff is invited to eat a meal prepared by their students at the Kitchen Kids Café. Diners pay for dinner with a bottle of laundry detergent, which is donated to Must Ministries. Through this experience, students not only learn how to cook, but also gain knowledge about hunger and homelessness in Georgia. With the Voya grant, Alicea hopes to expand her project by purchasing gardening equipment that will enable her students to grow produce for families in need.

2016

Carol Mickus, Dr. Vanessa Watkins and Dr. Lis Maynard (2016)

Austell, GA
Cooper Middle School

First Place Winner
$27,000

The team’s innovative teaching idea, “Moving Into Middle Through a Science Portal,” is focused on helping students who attend Clarkdale Elementary School, many who come from low-income households, increase their academic achievement through a successful transition into Cooper Middle School. Through weekly visits and hands-on activities in the middle school’s science lab, elementary students will increase their comfort, confidence and competence in science — while middle school students learn how to become peer mentors. With the help of the students at Cooper Middle School, fifth graders will learn the middle school culture, set up their own science notebooks, participate in labs, and learn how to successfully navigate the middle school science curriculum and the school itself. The $27,000 grant will allow Cooper Middle School to transform its existing science lab into a safe and productive space for the program and extend the hands-on experience that is currently offered. Specifically, the funds will purchase additional equipment, including lab kits, dissection supplies, a Lego table and an interactive white board to expand the program’s robotics offerings for students. As the project grows, the team plans to expand the program to include other elementary schools in the community.  

Pages