PIQUA — Voya Financial, Inc., a leading provider of retirement plans for educators, announced Thursday that Holly McElwee, a teacher at Piqua Central Intermediate School, received a $2,000 grant as part of the company’s 2016 Voya Unsung Heroes awards competition.
“I’m very excited to receive this grant. Since this was a nationwide grant, I really didn’t know what my chances of winning were going to be. I got word of my acceptance during the summer,” McElwee said. “I was thrilled to know that my application stood out above the others and that the students of Piqua Central would benefit from this award money.”
Through the Voya Unsung Heroes program, Voya Financial awards grants to K-12 educators across the nation to honor their innovative teaching methods, creative educational projects, and their ability to positively influence the children they teach. Since 1996, the program has awarded nearly $5 million in grants to more than 2,000 educators across the United States.
McElwee, a resident of Troy, was chosen from a group of more than 1,350 applicants, and is one of only 100 winners across the U.S. who will receive this award to help fund and bring her program to life. She also will now compete with other finalists for one of the top three prizes — an additional $5,000, $10,000 or $25,000 from Voya Financial.
McElwee’s teaching idea, “Rockin’ Through Science Class,” focuses on helping students better understand rocks, minerals and soil by participating in several hands-on experiences.
“My goal is to purchase items that will allow for hands-on work as we study Earth Science. This will include purchasing more rock and mineral samples for the kids to work with,” said McElwee, who also writes a column, “The Traveling Teacher,” which appears monthly in the Piqua Daily Call. “For example, the kids will conduct hardness testing on minerals. They make close observations of various rock samples. Experiments on crystals and soil sampling will also be supported with the grant money.”
In addition, McElwee hopes to take her students on a walking field trip to a local cemetery to provide a real-life connection to rocks and their practical uses and invite guest speakers from a local company that produces headstones to teach the students how granite goes from the ground to being manufactured into becoming a monument.
McElwee hopes this unique approach will better engage her sixth graders and get them excited about earth science.
“Kids study rocks, minerals, and soil to better understand the world and how it was formed. Some kids will say, ‘Well, it’s just a rock,’ but when we look at the rock cycle and how all the rocks on our planet get recycled over time, it’s amazing for the kids to realize how this process works,” McElwee said.
“We use rocks and minerals in our everyday lives, but most of the kids haven’t grasped that common products like toothpaste wouldn’t be possible without minerals. Most sixth graders don’t know that salt is a mineral. It’s exciting as a teacher to see the light bulbs go off in their minds as they come to learn how rocks and minerals affect us all.”
Heather Lavallee, president of Tax-Exempt Markets at Voya Financial, said in addition to helping teachers plan for their retirement, Voya has “this unique opportunity to help them dream big in the classroom and inspire their students to do the same.
“We are proud to recognize those exceptional teachers who work every day to raise the bar of their profession and find new ways to spark a love of learning. As we help Americans plan, invest and protect their savings to build a secure financial future, we’re honored to help Holly McElwee go above and beyond to prepare her students for their own bright future.”
Reach Belinda M. Paschal at (937) 451-3341.
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