LaFawn Berry, an academic science coach at Queen Creek District Office, has received a $2,000 grant as part of Voya Financial’s 2021 Unsung Heroes awards competition.
“This year, educators like LaFawn Berry have had to be particularly innovative to find new and creative ways to reach students to help keep them engaged during challenging times,” said Angela Harrell, Voya’s chief diversity and corporate responsibility officer and president of the Voya Foundation. “We are proud to support educators across the country as they go above and beyond to ensure they are connecting with their students with innovative approached to learning.”
Berry’s innovative teaching idea, “Coding and Literature,” is designed to connect coding and robots to literature. Younger students will program robots to do a task in a story book by using simple bar coding or drag-and-drop coding, while older students will code robots to act out parts of a novel, or to solve a problem in the literature.
The Queen Creek Unified School District currently has science/technology kits that teachers can check out for classroom use. The project's intent is to include additional robots and several grade-appropriate lesson plans to provide versatility, cost effectiveness and challenges for all students. The Voya grant will expedite the district’s efforts to develop curriculum with these robots, connecting literature to coding.
If necessary, the program will be adjusted for distance learning or will be recalibrated for implementation based on social distancing requirements.
Selected from a group of applicants from across the U.S., Berry is one of only 50 winners and has the only winning program in Arizona. In addition to receiving the $2,000 award to help fund and bring her program to life, Berry 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.
For 25 years, the Voya Unsung Heroes program has awarded grants to K-12 educators in the United States to honor their innovative teaching methods, creative educational projects, and their ability to positively influence the children they teach. Since the program’s inception, Voya has awarded more than $5.8 million in support of educators through this nationwide program.
“Educators have faced unprecedented challenges during this past year and, more than ever, need support as they work to develop today’s students into tomorrow’s leaders,” Harrell said. “Our Unsung Heroes program helps bring to life educators’ innovative teaching ideas to enrich the learning experience and better prepare our nation’s children for a rapidly changing workplace.