Spring Branch ISD Featured News

J. Landon Short Mini Grants for Educators winner spotlight: Northbrook High School’s Abena Ntoso

Mini Grant project: Culturally Diverse Novels for Literature Circles

Abena Ntoso wanted to give her students at Northbrook High School more access to culturally diverse options for reading and studying literature. So, she applied for – and has been awarded – funds from the Spring Branch ISD J. Landon Short Mini Grants for Educators program to purchase additional sets of books to help her students learn and grow as readers and writers. 

Having a more diverse set of authors and books to choose from will not only help increase student interest in studying literature, but also give students exposure to a wider variety of literary styles and techniques to practice in their own creative writing.

The robust study and discussion from a wider variety of literature also will contribute to the students’ development of Spring Branch ISD’s Core Characteristics of a T-2-4 Graduate such as being Empathetic & Self-aware and increasing skills as Communicators & Collaborators

“Throughout the year, my students will be reading and studying a variety of novels, and they will be discussing these literary works in classroom seminar sessions, writing literary interpretation essays, and using these works as mentor texts to help them try new creative writing techniques and ideas,” Ntoso said in her grant application.

Students prepare for literary discussions with their peers by:

  • reading the same book and taking notes in a journal
  • creating discussion questions for their peers 
  • observing how the text connects to their own ideas and understanding

During the small group Literature Circles, students record notes of the dialogue and how the group worked together. The students also use a writing process to produce a literary interpretation essay, creative writing piece or a project inspired by the book they studied.

Literature Circles in Ms. Ntoso's classroom at Northbrook High School

“Literature is a perfect springboard for welcoming creativity, critical thinking, imagination and compassion,” Ntoso said. “I believe that studying literature from diverse cultures can help students to become comfortable participating in conversations about topics or ideas that are complex or unfamiliar.”

The sets of books by influential authors that Ntoso will acquire with the Mini Grant Program funding were selected to give students increasing access to advanced literature that presents a wide variety of perspectives:

  • Beloved by Toni Morrison
  • In the Time of the Butterflies by Julia Alvarez
  • The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri
  • One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
  • Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
  • Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison

One of the shared beliefs at the core of Spring Branch ISD’s T-2-4 goal is that a great school system instills in Every Child a belief that they can achieve more than they think possible.

“One of the most powerful ways to communicate this belief to our students is to include the work of authors and leaders who represent a variety of backgrounds, cultures and social groups,” Ntoso said.

Congratulations, Ms. Ntoso, on your mini-grant award that will surely Inspire Minds and Shape Lives.


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.