SPRINGDALE, Ark. (KNWA/KFTA) — Two George Elementary educators in Springdale have together received a $2,000 grant as part of Voya Financial’s “Unsung Heroes” program.

The Unsung Heroes program awards grants to K-12 educators to “honor their innovative teaching methods, creative educational projects, and their ability to positively influence the children they teach.” According to a release, ESL teacher Deanna Self and counselor Erika Fuentes are the only winners in the state of Arkansas.

“Educators like Deanna and Erika greatly influence and shape our nation’s future leaders,” said Angela Harrell, Voya’s chief diversity and corporate responsibility officer and president, Voya Foundation. “Their creative teaching methods and innovative thinking inspire and motivate students to reach new heights. For 26 years, through Voya Unsung Heroes and other education-oriented programs, we have supported educators who go above and beyond to enrich the lives of their students.” 

Self’s and Fuentes’ primary teaching method that earned them the award is named “Budgeting Behavior Points,” which focuses on reinforcing positive behavior among students and creating a respectful, responsible environment.

According to the release, the program gives students the opportunity to earn points through a free online app titled “Dojo Behavior Management System.” Students can use their points earned from demonstrating safe, responsible, and respectful behavior, to purchase items from the school’s store. Points can be earned in any school setting, including while on the bus.

In addition to supporting a positive environment, Voya says the program also provides real-life economic and financial experience. Students keep track of their points and budget them in order to buy items they want, ranging from physical fitness equipment to items that promote creativity and art. Social and emotional or sensory tools such as fidget spinners, stuffed animals, pop toys, and Rubik’s Cubes will be available as well.

The release notes Self and Fuentes are among only 50 winners in the nation to receive the $2,000 award. In addition, they will now compete with other finalists for one of the top three prizes — an additional $5,000, $10,000 or $25,000.

To learn more about this year’s winning projects, as well as those from previous years, visit the Unsung Heroes website.