Spring Branch ISD Featured News

J. Landon Short Mini Grants for Educators winners: Thornwood Elementary team receives funding for Family STEM Night


L to R: Maria Valdez, Joanne Lim, Vicki Lullo, Anne Marie Thomeer

Mini Grant Project: Museum of Natural Science - Thornwood Family STEM Night

What may seem like an evening of fun for students and families at Thornwood Elementary in Spring Branch ISD has many layers of academic benefits. A team of teachers and leaders at Thornwood were recently awarded grant funding from the J. Landon Short Mini Grant for Educators program to host a Family STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) Night at the school with an outreach team from the Houston Museum of Natural Science (HMNS) providing hands-on learning experiences appropriate for each grade level.

“A goal that Spring Branch strives for is to ensure that our students feel excited about going to school every day and that they feel part of our community,” Maria Valdez, a Thornwood special education resource teacher, wrote in the team’s grant application.

“We know that the joy of learning is infectious. Giving students, parents, siblings and friends the opportunity to learn together is a powerful move that will motivate our students and families.”

Studies have shown that parent involvement in children’s learning is a critical ingredient to student success. When students get to share learning with their guardians and siblings, it creates bonds between the family members as well as within the Thornwood community.

During the STEM nights, students will rotate to various learning stations manned by HMNS staff members and will engage in grade-appropriate science concepts that align with Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) requirements. Students and families will keep a record what was learned at each station as a souvenir of the fun evening of learning.

As a result of the event, the Thornwood Mini Grant project team (Valdez plus principal Vicki Lullo, assistant principal Joann Lim and literacy instructional specialist Anne Marie Thomeer) will measure increased levels of academic achievement and parent involvement at the school. Skills learned through this collaboration will also help students develop Core Characteristics of a T-2-4 Ready Graduate, the essential attributes Spring Branch ISD aspires for young people to gain throughout their years of learning in the district.

“I hope that providing students with this experience will allow them to take what they have learned and bring it back to their classroom,” Valdez said. “Opportunities like STEM night can spur interest in what our students will one day want to do when they graduate.”

Thank you to the Thornwood Family STEM Night team, and Mini Grant program sponsors, for your efforts to bring these learning moments to students and families at the school.

UPDATE 12/14/21: See photos from the STEM Night here:


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
•    CITGO
•    First Community Credit Union
•    McNair Endowment interest


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