Sam Houston Elementary School in McAllen is more than just a place for learning. It’s the birthplace of dreams and innovation. For more than 25 years, the school has transformed the traditional learning paradigm, offering its students a unique, immersive experience in a mini metropolis known on the campus as Houstonville.

“The name of the program is “Mini-Tropolis,” which is actually a program that was initiated in a partnership with IBC Bank and Sam Houston Elementary back in 1996,” Jessica Lowe, Sam Houston Elementary principal, said.

This program was widespread throughout the Rio Grande Valley before the pandemic. Only a few schools still run it today, and Sam Houston is one of those and the longest-standing campus to continue the program.

Imagine a place where the hustle and bustle of a city thrives, driven by children’s boundless energy and creativity. Houstonville is not just a model city. It’s a hub where the lines between education and real-world experiences collide.

“Houstonville comes alive every Friday at 2:20 p.m., and all pre-K through fifth-grade students participate. We mimic what a city has,” Lowe said.

The “city” is led by significant city officials who mirror the complexities of an actual city, all elected and run by students. Instead of a student council, the school “elects” a City Council comprising fifth-grade representatives. The school has a Mayor, Mayor Pro-Tem, a city record of parliamentarians, and commissioners.

The mini-city is not just a marvel of government but also of commerce. It features a fully functional IBC Bank where students learn about financial management by keeping track of accounts, executing transactions, and using Cougar Cash as currency.

“We also partner with dozens of businesses across the Rio Grande Valley, such as Walmart, IBC Bank, Home Depot, the City of McAllen, the Mayor’s Office, the City of McAllen Police Department, and the City of McAllen Recycling Center,” Lowe said.

Other businesses have recently joined, including the Salvation Army and Noble Construction. These partnerships provide items for the students to sell and buy. Home Depot donated plants, and Noble Construction donated hard hats, vests, and other resources like materials to build birdhouses and re-sell during Mini-tropolis’s time.

The mini city also has essential services such as a post office that ensures messages are delivered, teaching students the importance of communication and logistics. Law enforcement officers patrol the halls, instilling a sense of safety and order while educating about civic duty and the legal system.

“At the beginning of the school year, students have to complete a job application for the business they’re in, the class they’re in, and they have to select a position they are seeking,” Lowe said.

“They do this and learn how to complete an application and how to have interview skills, and then the teacher gives them a job. We also have a pay scale. If you’re a manager, you make the most; it just goes from there.”

The Mini-tropolis program at Sam Houston Elementary is more than just an educational initiative. It’s a visionary project that shapes the leaders, entrepreneurs, and responsible citizens of tomorrow. Students learn the value of leadership and responsibility and become financially literate, not through routine classroom instruction but through living every aspect of a city’s life.

The program sends a powerful message far beyond the walls of the campus. It tells a story of innovation and incredible potential in our young minds.

“Many kids come back and say, “My gosh, Mini-tropolis was so good for me, and this is what it did for me.” It provides a vibrant, robust education. It’s not about what’s in a textbook. It’s about these real-life world experiences.”

Selene Guerrero