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Lillian Reyad, a teacher at Catholic High School of Pointe Coupee, was named a 2017 Voya Unsung Hero which comes with a $2,000 grant prize. The Voya Unsung Heroes program annually awarded K-12 teachers who create innovative teaching methods that positively influence their students. Here, Reyad is shown in her classroom in New Roads.

ADVOCATE PHOTO BY CHRIS BURNS

A New Roads high school teacher is reaping dividends from a learning model she came up with to help her students apply lessons learned in math and science classes in a practical, real-world way.

Lillian Reyad, who teaches juniors and seniors at Catholic High of Pointe Coupee, finds herself among among a group of educators from around the country who are being honored for their innovative teaching initiatives.

She’s one of 100 teachers who will receive a $2,000 “Unsung Heroes” grant from Voya Financial. She's in the running to win up to an additional $25,000 if Voya names her one of their top three finalists in this year's competition.

"I was very surprised,” Reyad said. “When I applied, I didn't expect to hear something; being from a small town and this being a national competition. This is a good bit of money that I'll get to use for my class."

Reyad was recognized for her "STREAM Capstone Project" which she implemented last year for the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics class she teaches juniors and seniors at Catholic High of Pointe Coupee.

The project involves introducing students to engineering design and product development by challenging her students to create a startup company aimed at producing a functioning prototype of a product.

Over the course of the 2016-17 school year, Reyad required the 10 students enrolled in the class to work together to meet benchmarks she set and report their progress on their project on a bi-weekly basis.

"I see that a lot of students take math, physics and other science classes but don't see how it all works together," she said. "They think, 'Why do we need to learn this?' But if you put it all together and show them the reason...we can show them how all of it is useful in our world."

The 2016-17 class was the inaugural for Reyad's STEM course. That class spent the year creating a functioning prototype of a stationary bike stand that can charge a small electrical device, like a cellphone, by generating electrical energy through the peddling of the bike.

Reyad said she guided the students along the way, but left much of the decision making, construction and marketing concepts and design work to the students.

"I hope they saw how difficult it is to bring a product to market," she said. "They'd get excited when things happen but when they hit a wall, I'd have to encourage them not to give up."

Reyad said her class this year, made up of a new batch of the school's upperclassmen, are in the process of creating their fictional startup company and figuring out what kind of product they want to create.

As for her $2,000 grant money, Reyad will use it to purchase equipment and materials they'll need for the yearlong assignment. Last year's students had to borrow items from the school's maintenance department, or had things donated to them, she said.

Her fingers are crossed she'll be named one of the top three finalists by Voya which receive an additional $5,000 for third place, $10,000 for second place and $25,000 for first place.

"You could get a lot of machines, tools and computer programs with that," she said. "We could really prepare them for careers in the real world."

For the past 20 years, Voya Financial has awarded grants to kindergarten through 12th grade teachers who enter their Unsung Heroes competition touting any innovative teaching methods and/or creative educational projects they've implemented to positively influence their students' learning.

"Understanding that we all learn differently, these teachers have developed unique programs to engage the minds of each and every student," Heather Lavallee, president of Tax-Exempt Markets at Voya Financial, said in the news release announcing Reyad's win. "This aligns with our desire to help all Americans prepare for their unique financial futures."

Reyad was one of three teachers in the state who made Voya's 2017 honoree list. The other two were teachers from Donaldsonville and Doyline.

Follow Terry Jones on Twitter, @tjonesreporter.