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Athena Ponce, president of Centenoville Commercial Bank

LAREDO, Texas – Financial literacy could be a topic that sounds scary for some, but engaging elementary students to learn it in a fun and entertaining way is something that a border bank, along with a number of school districts, has been doing for two decades.

While this semester, Sam Houston Elementary School in McAllen celebrated the 20th Anniversary of “Houstonville”; R.C. Centeno Elementary School in Laredo organized the “Centenoville” event for second year in a row.

It is through this Minitropolis that the campuses allow students to take action in different departments, from city offices to department stores.

“The support and love students have for this program is incredible,” David Guerra, president of IBC Bank-McAllen, said. “As a result, our students become better citizens as they take out more responsibilities that adults don’t give them when they are young.”

For Ignacio Urrabazo, CEO for International Bank of Commerce in Laredo, this is the best part of his job. “To be able to see all these young people working together and being productive and understanding,” said Urrabazo. “This type of Minitropolis helps them understand how the system works, so when they become adults they are going to be able to work in this environment.”

It’s through these events that IBC hopes students will learn the pros and cons of the real world.

“It’s important to understand academics, but it’s also important to understand what life is all about, and I think this program, and understanding financial literacy is something that we do in conjunction with schools,” Urrabazo added.


Debra Thomas, principal of Sam Houston Elementary School in McAllen.

Debra Thomas, principal at Sam Houston Elementary School in McAllen, thinks the program should exists in all schools in the United States.

“The kids are really growing from it in confident young students, and they will grow to become confident adults,” Thomas said.

Sam Houston ES has an 83 percent economic disadvantage population, but still has succeed in their annual state test.

“(At Houstonville) students take pride in their job, they don’t want to miss out a day,” Thomas said. “You have to truly engage a child to make them learn. This is a fun way to do it. Kids are really proud (and) they get prepared.”

IBC Bank-McAllen has sponsored Houstonville for 20 years. IBC Bank -McAllen president Guerra, said Houstonville resembles a mini-city.

“We have two bank buildings here. We have Target, HEB, Costco, Walmart, a Post Office, the IRS, city government, police department, paper recycling, everything a city would have to do. Every Friday, the students turn their school in Houstonville,” Guerra said.

“The love the students have for this program is incredible. Our students come out better citizens, they take on more responsibility that adults do not give them at a young age. When you give them this responsibility with the proper direction and their own creativity, they mature so quickly and they become so confident. They become more focused as students. They become leaders within their schools.

Guerra said students at Sam Houston Elementary School excel academically in part because of Houstonville.

“Their academic performance, as measured by the State of Texas, also increases for the entire school. Of the six state tests, they take, in five of them they have earned a distinction. We have great kids here. I am really proud of how the program has succeeded. More and more schools are seeing the benefits of this program and are looking to replicate Houstonville.”


Laura de los Santos, Principal at R.C. Centeno ES, felt grateful with IBC-Commerce Bank.
“It’s just wonderful, the kids loved it,” De los Santos said. “It’s a huge endeavor that took a year of planning (and) we get wonderful feedback from the teachers, faculty and overall and most important the students.”

Roberto J. Santos, Superintendent for United Independent School District, said this is the first step to students to understand the importance of how a bank operates, how it takes care of our money, and how transactions happen.

“I know teachers put a lot of time with the students.” Santos added.

“Centenoville” had a recycling center, Kinder Sweets, IRS, post office, CentenoMart, Junior Border Patrol, Centeno Commerce Bank, Centeno Police Department, a radio station, and a City Council.

Mayor of Centenoville, Azalea Valdez, explained students earned “centenoville-cash” from teachers by being assigned working jobs and being model citizens.

“Our community is about bringing a group of students to develop fellowship in creating a productive community and shares common interest,” Valdez said.

Also, Athena Ponce, President for Centenoville Commerce Bank said her goal was to provide leadership while supervising the operation of the bank and her employees.

While in the Valley there are three more campuses, besides Sam Houston ES, who have a Minitropolis, being those in Mission, Pharr-San Juan-Alamo, and McAllen, in Laredo there’s only two. Besides Centenoville, the other one is called “Arndtville” inside Arndt Elementary School, which started in 2009.