Innovative Education Program Takes First Place in National Voya Unsung Heroes Awards Competition

WINDSOR, Conn., Oct. 26, 2016 /PRNewswire/ -- Voya Financial, Inc. (NYSE: VOYA), a leading provider of retirement plans for educators, announced today that Carol Mickus, Dr. Vanessa Watkins, Mechelle Weddington and Dr. Liss Maynard, a group of educators in the Cobb County School District in Austell, Georgia, have received the first place prize in the company's national 2016 Voya Unsung Heroes awards competition.

Carol Mickus, Dr. Vanessa Watkins, Mechelle Weddington and Dr. Liss Maynard, a group of educators in the Cobb County School District in Austell, Georgia, are the first place winners in the 2016 Voya Unsung Heroes awards competition.

This year marks the program's 20th anniversary. Since 1996, the Voya Unsung Heroes program has awarded nearly $5 million in grants to more than 2,000 K-12 educators across the U.S. in support of their innovative teaching methods, creative educational projects and ability to positively influence the children they teach. In looking back at the winning projects from the program's 20-year history, Voya has also been able to track the popular trends and compelling concepts that have shaped our country's education system. (See infographic: "Voya Highlights 20 Years of Teaching Trends").

As the first place winners, selected from more than 1,350 applications, the group will receive $25,000 in addition to an initial $2,000 grant. This will bring their total financial award from Voya up to $27,000. The money will be used to help fund "Moving Into Middle Through a Science Portal," a collaborative program between Clarkdale Elementary School and Cooper Middle School in the Cobb County School District. Carol Mickus is a teacher and Dr. Vanessa Watkins is the principal at Cooper Middle School, while Mechelle Weddington is a teacher and Dr. Liss Maynard is the principal at Clarkdale Elementary School.

"Voya Financial is honored to salute this group of educators, who have the vision to pioneer new teaching methods and creative ideas in the classroom that inspire learning," said Heather Lavallee, president of Tax-Exempt Markets at Voya Financial. "Each day, we help individuals plan, invest and protect their savings to prepare for their financial future, and we are proud to recognize these men and women who prepare students for their future. Teaching is one of the most important professions in the world, and we are privileged to help educators like Carol Mickus, Dr. Vanessa Watkins, Mechelle Weddington and Dr. Liss Maynard continue to make a positive, lifelong impact on the children they teach."

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.

"This program is one of the most impactful I've seen in this school district," said Dr. Vanessa Watkins, principal of Cooper Middle School. "The collaborative commitment from these teachers and the amount of time that they have donated to bring this project to life has truly been inspirational to witness. When I see a student enter middle school with confidence and comfort on their first day, it is often thanks to the incredible work of this program." 

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.  

To learn more about this year's winning projects, as well as those from previous years, visit the Voya Unsung Heroes website ( Applications for the 2017 Voya Unsung Heroes awards are currently being accepted through the website until April 30, 2017.      

Media Contact:
Bill Sutton
Voya Financial
Office: (860) 580-2626
Cell: (315) 373-9685
[email protected]

About Voya Financial®
Voya Financial, Inc. (NYSE: VOYA), helps Americans plan, invest and protect their savings — to get ready to retire better. Serving the financial needs of approximately 13 million individual and institutional customers in the United States, Voya is a Fortune 500 company that had $11 billion in revenue in 2015. The company had $466 billion in total assets under management and administration as of June 30, 2016. With a clear mission to make a secure financial future possible — one person, one family, one institution at a time — Voya's vision is to be America's Retirement Company™. The company is equally committed to conducting business in a way that is socially, environmentally, economically and ethically responsible — Voya has been recognized as one of the 2016 World's Most Ethical Companies® by the Ethisphere Institute, and as one of the Top Green Companies in the U.S., by Newsweek magazine. For more information, visit Follow Voya Financial on Facebook and Twitter @Voya.

Voya Unsung Heroes 20th Anniversary

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