Spring Branch ISD Featured News

J. Landon Short Mini Grants for Educators winner spotlight: Panda Path’s Omayra Hernandez


Mini Grant Project: Building Future Architects

Pre-kindergarten students in Omayra Hernandez’s class at Panda Path School for Early Learning will soon be getting some tactile materials to help develop their abilities to see and experience the world in 3D and recognize how shapes fit together to form others.  

Hernandez applied for – and was recently awarded – grant funding from the Spring Branch ISD J. Landon Short Mini Grant for Educators program.

When students use blocks and shapes to “play,” there is actually more going on developmentally. Studies show that playing with blocks and manipulating shapes helps children develop a variety of skills that serve as “building blocks” for their futures, such as:

  • Learning elements of math and science
  • Problem solving
  • Counting, adding and subtracting
  • Gross and fine motor skills
  • Language learning
  • Curiosity, creativity and imagination
  • Self-esteem
  • Social and emotional growth

Hernandez’s Building Future Architects project will provide students with hands-on experiences with magnetic blocks, building sets and shapes to increase their interest in science and math. “As a result of this project, children will have a better understanding of how to think critically and develop problem-solving skills,” Hernandez said.  

Hernandez is a Special Education inclusion teacher at Panda Path, and envisions how these materials will help her adapt lessons for different levels of learning needs of the students she serves.

She has plans for students to use the hand-on building shapes to develop collaboration skills as they work in teams to observe, identify a problem, compare ideas, get feedback from each other and succeed together. Many of these aptitudes are embedded in the Core Characteristics of a T-2-4 Ready Graduate, Spring Branch ISD’s aspiration for who we want our students to become. 

Another key part of Hernandez’s plans for the grant-funded materials is to assign the students a shapes project in the spring semester to do at home with their families, such as creating a robot, a house, a building, or a train with the shapes. The students will present their projects to the class and invite the school community to participate.

“I am committed to shaping a strong future for my students by providing lasting knowledge that will help them gain math skills that will not only help them now, but in their future as well,” Hernandez said. “I can already see future doctors, engineers, artists and many more wonderful future adults in the process.”


For 32 years, Spring Branch ISD has conducted the J. Landon Short Mini Grants for Educators program. More than 20 years ago, the Robert and Janice McNair Foundation created this permanent program endowment in memory of J. Landon Short, a lifelong education advocate and district patron.

Thank you to our partners whose generous funding of more than $25,000 made this year’s mini grants possible:

  • Spring Branch Education Foundation
  • First Community Credit Union
  • McNair Endowment interest

See a complete list of the 2021 Mini Grant winners here.