School news

J. Landon Short Mini Grant funds help SBISD teachers create mind-opening experiences for students



Educators across Spring Branch ISD are dedicated to elevating students' learning experiences, and programs like the J. Landon Short Mini Grant for Educators have allowed teachers to engage students in innovative activities that expand their Limitless Curiosity. 

Over the last 22 years, the program has awarded more than 900 grants. This year, $21,687.73 in mini grant funds was awarded to 34 grant winners thanks to the generous support of program sponsors First Community Credit Union, Spring Branch Education Foundation, Spring Branch Management District and interest from the Robert and Janice McNair Foundation endowment. 

Some exciting initiatives that were funded by the J. Landon Short Mini Grant for Educators program include: 

Fun with Fiber Art - Meredith Kemper and Maggi Cummings, Hunters Creek Elementary 



After receiving a J. Landon Short Mini Grant last year, Hunters Creek Elementary librarian Meredith Kemper bought two sewing machines and started the Sew Creative Kids Club

The club was a success, as students enjoyed creating hats, purses, pillows and many other items out of fabric. It quickly grew and now has 28 members. Additionally, six sewing machines have been donated from the community to accommodate the growing club. 

“Our art teacher, Maggi Cummings, saw all the fiber art happening and was so excited for all the possibilities that students had in the sewing club and wanted to be a part of it,” said Kemper. “We collaborated and brainstormed ideas and from there Fun with Fiber Art was born!” 

The duo applied for the mini grant and was grateful to receive it. Funds will be used for fiber materials including fabric, yarn and other textures, tapestry needles, burlap and knitting hoops. 

Students will be engaging in a variety of projects, including a grade-level piece to be donated to the school at the end of the year. Sewing club members will have the opportunity to take their artwork and create other pieces using the sewing machines. 

The Sew Creative Kids Club will also sell the items they created during the end of the year school-wide art show. All the proceeds will be donated to a charity or nonprofit organization. 

“We love the Fun with Fiber Art project! Students will get the opportunity to be creative and see the endless possibilities and fun that comes along with experimenting with fibers,” concluded Kemper. 

Take it Outside: Building Literacy Through Community Story Walks - Shawna Dykes, Spring Shadows Elementary



During a hike with her children, Shawna Dykes, teacher at Spring Shadows Elementary, came across book pages throughout the path. Dykes realized a book had been deconstructed and the pages had been posted throughout the hike for people to read. 

Dykes first heard about the initiative during the pandemic, as it was a safe way to read together. However, it became a point of interest when she saw how much her own children enjoyed it. 

“Literacy activities often require sitting still and some of our students really struggle with that,” said Dykes. “I wanted to remove that barrier so students could connect with the books.” 

Dykes chose to display Isabel and her Colores go to School by Alexandra Alessandri. She notes that Shadow Oaks has a high population of newcomers who only speak Spanish. Since the book is in English and Spanish, Dykes knew this was the perfect book. 

The mini grant funds will be utilized to purchase frames to hold and display the pages and two copies of the book. The book will be displayed in the school library. 

During Parent Night, students will have the opportunity to give their parents a tour of the book. Dykes notes that a main focus of the project is to have students share a story with their parents, either by retelling it or reading it together. 

“I believe sharing stories helps our students become more compassionate people and promotes literacy as a worthwhile endeavor both inside and outside of the classroom,” she added. 

The StoryWalk® Project was created by Anne Ferguson of Montpelier, VT and developed in collaboration with the Kellogg-Hubbard Library. Storywalk® is a registered service mark owned by Ferguson.

Fitness and Fluency - Elena Vavasour and Dana Haag, Terrace Elementary



At Terrace Elementary, Action-Based Learning (ABL) is a strategy that has been widely adopted. 

Elena Vavasour, teacher at Terrace, mentions that teachers across all grade levels combine movement and fluency practice in math, academic vocabulary, high-frequency words and content vocabulary. 

“Fitness and Fluency is inspired by the work of Jean Blaydes Moize,” said Vavasour. “Moize created ABL and popularized the current research proving that exercise readies the brain for learning by increasing neural pathways and raising endorphins.” 

Vavasour emphasizes that learning is fun when students are physically active. Through the 12 foundations of movement, students not only strengthen their cardio health, balance motor skills, cross lateralization and coordination, but they are also increasing social competence and personal grit. 

Vavasour is currently borrowing equipment from the Health Fitness Department, but will use the mini grant funds to purchase equipment to build their program and support the health, social skills development and academic achievement of Every Child at Terrace. 

Clay for All - Frances Smolen and Jennifer Thelander, Spring Oaks Middle School



As an art teacher at Spring Oaks Middle, Frances Smolen saw how much students enjoyed working with clay. When thinking of an impactful way to incorporate clay into the art curriculum, Smolen and Jennifer Thelander, Spring Oaks teacher, landed on Empty Bowls.  

Empty Bowls is a grassroots movement by artists across the country to feed the hungry. The Houston chapter partners with the Houston Center for Contemporary Craft and the Houston Food Bank to host events where attendees pay a $25 fee and receive a bowl with soup. All money raised benefits children, families and seniors facing food insecurity. 

Smolen and Thelander’s goal is for students to create ceramic bowls and donate them to the cause. 

The funds awarded by the mini grant will be used to purchase large amounts of clay, glazes and clay tools, which will be used by students to make bowls and be part of the initiative. 

Smolen notes that students will not only be learning about clay and making art, but they will also benefit from the act of giving. 

Smolen strives to teach students to be Ethical and Service-Minded, a key part of SBISD’s Core Characteristics

“This project will allow students to make unique hand-crafted bowls, while also learning about one of our city’s most dire problems,” added Smolen. “The hope is for students to feel empowered to serve a cause that is greater than themselves, give back to the community and feel pride in their service.” 

Materials for Campus Murals and Other School Art Activities - Russell Erwin and Stephanie Guzman, Northbrook Middle School



The new Art Club at Northbrook Middle had many participants but not enough materials to support their projects. 

 Northbrook art teacher Russell Erwin applied for the mini grant to purchase art supplies for the students. Along with Stephanie Guzman, teacher at Northbrook, the club will be focusing on creating a new mural at the school. 

A big theme for the club is Hispanic Heritage, as many of its members are Hispanic. They recently created colorful piñatas, hollow figures traditionally made of papier-mâché, pottery or cloth that are decorated and usually filled with candy. The art pieces will be displayed around campus to celebrate the holidays. 

Erwin is excited about upcoming projects, including creating plaster masks and decorating them in a traditional sugar skull style. The club will then transition into collaboratively planning for the mural design.  

As a professional muralist himself, Erwin is excited to share his expertise with students.

“Our students will benefit greatly from making art that matters,” said Erwin. “Their art pieces communicate their values and dreams to our community on campus and beyond.”  

Fish Poop Salad - Sean Doyle and Gina Disteldorf, Spring Woods High School



While in the Bahamas, Sean Doyle, teacher at Spring Woods, was intrigued by an innovative solution. 

Since the soil is so poor in the Bahamas, they are not able to grow much vegetation. Additionally, importing food to the island is expensive and time consuming. To alleviate some of the problem, the Island School built an aquaponics system to create fresh salad that they were able to safely eat.  

The students and staff fed fish and used their waste to turn it into plant fertilizer with the help of nitrifying bacteria. 

With the mini grant funds, Doyle and Gina Disteldorf, teacher at Spring Woods, will teach students how to create a hydroponic system and make their own fertilizer out of fish poop. 

“In an increasingly urban environment, it’s important for our students to understand that nature works in cycles,” said Doyle. “To reduce our ecological impact, we must do our best to understand these cycles and adjust our behavior to better participate with them.”

Congratulations to all the 2022 J. Landon Short Mini Grant for Educators winners: 

Pre-K and Early Childhood: 

  • Bringing Stories to Life - Sarah Vier and Amanda Ruiz, The Tiger Trail School 
  • Creating Home and School Connections - Maricela Akshar, The Tiger Trail School
  • Phonological Awareness Fun with IMSE Products - Melinda Cox, The Wildcat Way School 


  • Hands-on STEM Action - Susan Thorn, Buffalo Creek Elementary
  • Spot Emotional Growth - Rachel Rosenberg, Cassidy Menard, Hilda Melkus, Alisah Perez and Ashley Brook, Buffalo Creek Elementary
  • K-Tech Tastic 3.0 - Jaclyn Bagos, Sarah House, Amanda Maynard, Amber Workman, Kinsey Yepez and Claire Aitken, Nottingham Elementary
  • Books for Read A Louds - Sandra Camarena, Ridgecrest Elementary
  • Graphic Novels for Struggling Readers - Julie Yanez, Shadow Oaks Elementary
  • Ceramics K-5 - Natalie Johnson, Spring Branch Elementary
  • The Building Bloxels of Learning at Our School - Teresa Dolan, Terrace Elementary
  • Clay Creations! - Kara Pirtle, Terrace Elementary
  • The Makey Makey Literacy Project - Krystal Austin, Ashley Acosta, Cindy Aparicio and Noor Mawed, Thornwood Elementary
  • Real Book Reading - Kristen Gonzalez and Shelby Trapp, Thornwood Elementary
  • Girls in Engineering - Joanne Lim, Emily Breslin and Maria Valdez, Thornwood Elementary
  • Above and Beyond - Yolanda Flores and Elizabeth Posada, Treasure Forest Elementary
  • Rain or Shine, We Create Art All the Time! - Stephanie Walton, Wilchester Elementary
  • Counting On with Collections - Theresa Schwab-Trevino, Michelle Rios, Nicole Hand and Frank Aviles, Woodview Elementary
  • Winner of Mock Caldecott Is… - Shannon Caesar, Woodview Elementary


  • Lifelong Physical Enrichment - Leticia Hogeda and Hope Grochmall, Northbrook Middle 
  • Outside the Box through Gameplay - Ami Rapp, Spring Forest Middle 
  • Rich Literature for Dyslexia Reading Program (Orton-Gillingham) - Karen Collum and Patricia Keeley, Spring Woods Middle
  • Broadcast Journalism: Blazing a Path to Media Production - Regina Cooper and William McArthur, Spring Woods Middle
  • Building Minds of Mathematicians - Ashlie Gutierrez, Spring Woods Middle
  • Promoting Journalism Through Different Mediums - Pablo Victor, Northbrook High 
  • Safe and Secured - Lauren Mohan, Northbrook High
  • Color Theory: Printing with a Purpose - Christopher McVay and Virginia Reesman, Northbrook High
  • Aquariums for All - Courtney Jett, Nicholas Butler, Dr. Penny Spellman and Matthew Lee, Stratford High 
  • Classroom Calm Down Kits for All - Christina Carrizales and Mona Bushehri, Westchester Academy 

Visit the J. Landon Short Mini Grant for Educators site for more information about the program. If you would like to become a mini grant sponsor, please contact Community Engagement at