Unsung hero

Negaunee Middle School teacher wins grant

Negaunee Middle School science teacher Krista Squiers, above, shows the type of safety equipment that will be purchased with the $2,000 Voya Unsung Heroes grant she was awarded. Squiers teaches a special elective class, Environmental Adventures. (Journal photos by Christie Bleck)

NEGAUNEE — Some science classes have beakers and test tubes. Other classes have safety helmets and harnesses.

Guess which one Krista Squiers will use in her Environmental Adventures class?

Squiers, an eighth-grade science teacher at Negaunee Middle School, has been awarded a $2,000 Voya Unsung Heroes grant as part of this year’s awards competition run by Voya Financial Inc., which deals with workplace retirement solutions such as savings plans for K-12 educators.

Through its Unsung Heroes program, grants are awarded to K-12 educators nationwide to honor their innovative teaching methods, creative educational projects and ability to positively influence their students.

Environmental Adventures cultivates students’ abilities in basic survival, team building and real world problem solving.

All that takes resources — and safety equipment.

“The more safety we have, the better for everybody,” said Squiers, who already has started buying items.

Those items including harnesses, which will go around the kids’ waists and legs when they go rock climbing.

Squiers wants to outfit every kid with a helmet and a harness instead of having to share equipment, which has been done in the past.

Backpacks are desired as well, especially on the overnight winter camping trip. In fact, the Negaunee Middle School Parent-Teacher Organization recently donated 10 new backpacks.

“When you talk about gear, gearheads, you know, they would call them beautiful backpacks,” Squiers said. “So, I’m hoping that maybe we can get a couple more and continue on with backpacks.”

It shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone that Environmental Adventures is not your “normal” class, so special care has to be taken with the youngsters.

“You’ve got to have the right gear, the proper gear, to be safe and, you know, enjoy that environment,” Squiers said.

Environmental Adventures is a semester-long elective class that runs the first semester.

That doesn’t mean what youngsters learn in the course isn’t important.

Take rock climbing, for instance.

“The kids learn how to set up the climbs themselves,” Squiers said. “Of course, everything is done with safety in mind.”

After a couple weeks of mastering skills, the students go to a local rock face and get involved with nature interpretation by looking for animal scat and tracks — things they might encounter in their everyday lives in the Upper Peninsula, she said.

The youngsters also get into orienteering and working with GPS, which stands for Global Positioning System, and survival skills like primitive shelter-building and food storage.

“We’ll go geocaching, something they can do as an adult,” Squiers said. “These are things, these are skills, that’ll translate, you know, beyond eighth grade.”

The overnight winter camping trip is one example.

“We learn how to officially pack a bag,” Squiers said. “We load up, and we go. It’s pretty awesome.”

Squiers was selected for the Voya grant from a group of more than 1,200 applicants and is one of only 100 winners across the United States who will receive the award to help fund her program. She was one of just three winners in Michigan, with the other two educators coming from downstate Troy and Lansing.

She now will compete with other finalists for one of the top three prizes — an additional $5,000, $10,000 or $25,000 from Voya Financial.

“Understanding that we all learn differently, these teachers have developed unique programs to engage the minds of each and every student,” said Heather Lavalee, president of tax-exempt markets at Voya Financial, in a news release.

To learn more about this year’s winning projects as well as those from previous years, visit unsungheroes.com. Applications for the 2018 Voya Unsung Heroes awards will be accepted through the website until April 30.

Christie Bleck can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250. Her email address is cbleck@miningjournal.net.