MCALLEN, RGV – The “Minitropolis” program established by IBC Bank at Sam Houston Elementary School in McAllen in 1996 is going from strength to strength.

It is now running in more than 30 communities in the IBC Bank footprint across Texas and Oklahoma.

“IBC Bank-McAllen has taken the lead in establishing the Minitropolis program in partnership with its financial literacy initiatives across more than 15 schools in Hidalgo County,” said Dora Brown, IBC Bank-McAllen senior vice president of marketing. “We are proud to see the program succeed, not only around our community, but also across Texas.”

The program was showcased recently at Sam Houston Elementary so that visiting principals and teachers that are thinking of introducing it to their schools could see it in action. Other visitors included state legislators, state banking association leaders, and bankers, some from as far away as Oklahoma.

The visitors saw a mini-community within the school – Houstonville – where students earn, save and spend money at local businesses within their minitropolis.

Adrian Villarreal, president and CEO of IBC Bank in McAllen, said the goal of the Minitropolis program is to help school-aged students gain a better understanding of financial literacy concepts while learning the value of leadership and responsibility that will set them up for success as adults.

“The Minitropolis program has been able to flourish because of the immense amount of work, thought and care our staff, teachers and students put into the program every day,” Villarreal said. “We are privileged to show everyone how this program works and why it’s beneficial to every student.”

Kristine Garza, principal at Wilson Elementary School in McAllen, visited “Houstonville” to see the original program. Her school started a similar program two years ago. She said educational attainment is rising as a result.

“We open up Wilsonville on a Friday, a day our students are very eager to go to school. We have seen a growth in academic achievement – last year we received four distinctions – and our attendance has gone up. Students are much more excited about coming to school because we allow them to be part of something bigger than themselves. It teaches the students leadership skills and how to get along with others.”

Garza said a key ingredient for a successful minitropolis in schools is to have “buy-in” by the teachers.

“You have to have buy-in, so people know why they are doing it. Fortunately, teachers are full-steam ahead. I am here to learn more – he teachers at Houstonville are so open to sharing their knowledge,” Garza said.

Asked what parents make of “Wilsonville,” Garza said: “I have had parents say, what in the world is this. Their kids go home and tell them. The parents become so excited. They cannot believe their kids are depositing money in a bank. The kids are learning what it is to want something and what it is to need something. They are learning to save money.”

Garza added that because the community Wilson Elementary School serves, with a lower than average socio-economic profile, some parents do not have the money to buy the things they need.

“This program allows the students to save their money and purchase things for their families. What we notice is they purchase something for a family member, a brother or sister. We have a second-hand clothes store. One person’s trash is another person’s treasure. The kids buy the clothes and go home with something tangible.”

Tony Forina, president of McAllen ISD, said he is proud of the local partnerships schools in his district forged as they developed their minitropolis programs.

“We have different local partnerships with our local communities. Our great friends at IBC Bank spearheaded this endeavor. When they say, ‘We Do More,’ they really mean it. We also have our friends from Home Depot, HEB, Walmart, and, for the first time, the Salvation Army. It is exciting to see all these kids diving in to what you and I do on a regular basis, learning to take care of their money,” Forina said.

“We see eight-, nine- and ten-year-old students as tellers at the Houstonville’s IBC Bank helping customers deposit their money. We are preparing our students for when they leave school, so they have a solid foundation in financial literacy, so they have a strong future.”

Forina said Houstonville remains the model every other school must emulate as it has carried the torch for 21 years. “It is something special. I am proud we have successfully taken the model to five other elementary schools.”

He acknowledged that not every teacher understands or wants to participate in the program.

“I won’t lie, we have lost some fascinating teachers who have said, that is not what I want to do. But, we have recruited some tremendous teachers who want to be a part of this and who say, I want to see this program grow. We are teaching our students financial literacy and what it is like to be in the workforce, but our teachers are going the extra two miles to ensure it is a successful program.”

IBC Bank-McAllen manages 16 Minitropolis programs. They are:

  • Sam Houston Elementary – Houstonville
  • Captain D. Salinas Elementary – Salinasville
  • Mims Elementary – Mustangville
  • Midkiff Elementary – Republic of Midkiff
  • E.B. Reyna Elementary – Reynavilla
  • Escandon Elementary – Talon Town
  • Seguin Elementary – Seguin Valley
  • Wilson Elementary – Wilsonville
  • Victor Fields Elementary – Falconville
  • Hendricks Elementary – Starville
  • Garza Pena Elementary – Kodiakville
  • IDEA McAllen – Tigerville
  • IDEA Pharr – Lionville
  • IDEA Edinburg
  • IDEA Mission
  • IDEA Rio Grande City

In addition to Villarreal, Brown and Forina, speakers at the demonstration included Mark Magnon, IBC Bank-McAllen VP Commercial Lending; Jim Darling, Mayor of McAllen; Dr. Jose Gonzales, McAllen ISD Superintendent; and Debra Loya-Thomas, Principal Sam Houston Elementary School.