Sterling Elementary receives grant for community project

Sterling Elementary School is now home to an ‘Unsung Hero,’ thanks to a grant given to school principal Denise Kelly.

The Voya Unsung Heroes Grant for Innovative Teaching Program was awarded to Kelly earlier this year, making Kelly one of only 100 winners from across the country and the only winner in Alaska. The grant brings $2,000 to the school in order to work on Kelly’s Caring School Community Program. It also allows Kelly the opportunity to be considered for further grants of up to $25,000.

“We’re using the funds to work with a program called Our Caring School Community,” Kelly said. “It will help us to build community within the school and the greater school community, and to help us work towards kindness and empathy.”

Our Caring School Community apples the learning curriculum to the Sterling community in order to develop a stronger, growth-oriented school culture.

“By promoting a safe frame of mind and correcting behavioral issues, this project aims to increase students’ focus and improve academic proficiency,” according to a statement from the Unsung Heroes program. “Kelly and the school’s staff believe that the Caring School Curriculum … will successfully encourage students, staff and families to join together in building a strong and caring school culture.”

Kelly said that the program includes daily class meetings, classes pairing up as buddy classes, home activities for students and their families to do together and community wide events.

“The daily class meeting will allow kids to have a place and time set aside to problem solve and talk with the class as a human being,” Kelly said.

Sterling Elementary started implementing the program this year, Kelly said, and they are receiving good feed back.

“Our staff decided to focus on the class meeting aspect first… It’s been going great,” Kelly said. “We just had a site council meeting yesterday where we were talking about this and they have been complimentary of what has been going on, how people are receiving. It’s a very positive feel. It’s not as though it’s brand new, this aspect just frames it differently than in the past.”

Kelly said that the closeness of the Sterling community adds to the success of the Our Caring School Community program.

“It further builds the community from within,” Kelly said. “We’ll still do everything we’ve been doing, just adding that sense of camaraderie together. We’re in this together and we’re a class and we’re going to do this together.”

Voya Financial, which is a provider of workplace retirement solutions, has been running the Unsung Heroes program for over 20 years and had more than 1,200 applicants this year.

“We are proud to recognize the many teachers who go above and beyond to inspire a love of learning in their classrooms,” said Heather Lavallee, president of Tax-Exempt Markets at Voya Financial, in a statement. “Understanding that we all learn differently, these teachers have developed unique programs to engage the minds of each and every student.”

Kelly said she is excited about receiving the grant.

“I was loooking for grants to be able to do this program here at Sterling,” Kelly said. “I was able to find this grant and it really fit in with what we were looking for.”

Reach Kat Sorensen at

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