Innovative Educational Program Takes Second Place in National ING Unsung Heroes Awards® Competition


“The Next Generation of Music” transforms traditional music education into courses where students perform, compose and produce popular music genres

ING U.S., a leading provider of retirement plans and programs for educators, announced today that Eric Songer, a teacher at Chaska Middle School West in Chaska, Minn., has received the second-place prize in the national 2013 ING Unsung Heroes® awards program.

Through this program, ING U.S. awards grants to educators throughout the U.S. for innovative teaching ideas.  As the second-place winner, selected from nearly 1,300 applications, Songer will receive $10,000 to add to his initial $2,000 grant, bringing his grant total to $12,000 to help fund “The Next Generation of Music,” the award-winning program he is implementing at Chaska Middle School West. 

ING U.S. began the ING Unsung Heroes program in 1996 to demonstrate the company’s commitment to the education community.  Over the years, the program has awarded more than $4 million to 1,800 K-12 educators to honor their innovative teaching methods, creative educational projects and ability to positively influence the children they teach.

“Eric is an amazing teacher who contributes to the community by continually creating opportunities to bring parents, relatives and neighbors into our school and finding ways for our students to share their talents out in the community,” said Sheryl Hough, principal at Chaska Middle School West.  “He has a contagious enthusiasm for learning and creates classes and after school programs that engage students in meaningful musical experiences.  Eric encourages self-directed learning and critical thinking among students through the composing of their own music and the updating of their music theory curriculum.  This grant will benefit our entire school community.”

“The Next Generation of Music” involves transforming music education from how it has been taught the last 100 years and making it relevant, rigorous and interesting for today’s students.  Typical elective music courses will be overhauled into courses where students perform popular music genres like hip hop and electronica, compose music, produce and record music—all while still learning music theory, performance, listening and evaluation skills.  Students will be able to perform on non-traditional instruments, such as turntables and electric guitars; record, produce and engineer music in a real-life recording studio; and compose and write music with the use of the notation software Finale and the recording software, Logic and ProTools.  With the opportunity to create music videos, blog, design websites and they will create their own musical problems to solve.  The students will also work together as a team to compose, perform in small ensembles, record and produce.  Additionally, they will share their music online with parents and other schools. 

Songer, who resides in Chaska, hopes the program encourages students to become more creative as they go beyond playing notes in a piece of music.

The $12,000 ING Unsung Heroes grant award will allow Songer to purchase additional equipment needed to enhance the program, including various, high-quality instruments for the class, a DJ turntable and controller with Serato ITCH software as well as multiple tablets and speakers. 

“ING U.S. is honored to salute these outstanding teachers for their innovative ideas and dedication to America’s youth,” said Jamie Ohl, president of Tax-Exempt Markets for ING U.S. Retirement Solutions.  “Each day, we help individuals prepare for a secure financial future, and we are proud to help these men and women who prepare students for their future.  With the ING Unsung Heroes grant, Eric’s project can continue making a positive impact on the children he teaches.”

To learn more about this year’s winning projects, as well as those from previous years, visit the ING Unsung Heroes website.  More information about the program can also be found on the ING Unsung Heroes Facebook page where people can like and share the page to encourage more educators to apply.  Applications for the 2014 ING Unsung Heroes awards are currently being accepted through the website until April 30, 2014.


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About ING U.S.

ING U.S. (NYSE: VOYA), which plans to rebrand in the future as Voya Financial, is a premier retirement, investment and insurance company serving the financial needs of approximately 13 million individual and institutional customers in the United States.  The company’s vision is to be America’s Retirement Company and its guiding principle is centered on solving the most daunting financial challenge facing Americans today — retirement readiness.  Working directly with clients and through a broad group of financial intermediaries, independent producers, affiliated advisors and dedicated sales specialists, ING U.S. provides a comprehensive portfolio of asset accumulation, asset protection and asset distribution products and services.  With a dedicated workforce of approximately 7,000 employees, ING U.S. is grounded in a clear mission to make a secure financial future possible — one person, one family and one institution at a time.  For more information, visit

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