The whole city of Aurora fit snugly into a multi-purpose room at Cimarron Elementary School on June 11.
A stroll around the space would take one past recreations of some of the city's most notable landmarks and most popular businesses, including a sushi restaurant, a nail salon, the historic Delaney Farms property, the old KOA building and the Aurora Municipal Center. Starbucks, McDonalds, Target and other chain stores also figured into the mix.
Students from the school's Before and After School Care program manned miniature versions of all of these restaurants and public buildings, ready to take part in simulated commerce and learn important lessons about business, budgets and community. Their recreations of Aurora storefronts and facades were rendered in cardboard, paper and other simple materials, but the students took their lessons straight from their own surroundings.
About 30 kids from the school had built this miniature version of Aurora as part of the "Tourist Town" summer initiative, a project that takes its cues from the Colorado-based Young AmeriTowne program, which uses interactive, immersive learning spaces to teach financial literacy, budgeting and real-world skills.
According to Pauline Adams, Before and After School Care director at Cimarron, the purpose of the project is to recreate the AmeriTowne effect and offer lessons about financial literacy and local history.
"Our theme for the summer is 'Mighty Mustang's Tourist Town.' We were looking at the city of Aurora, going through its history and using some of the city's businesses as inspiration," Adams said. "We decided that we were going to build our own city of Aurora. They're learning about the history of the city."
Specifically, the project gave students the chance to see how Aurora developed from a rural, farm community into the third-largest city in the state of Colorado. They researched some of the city's oldest landmarks like Delaney Farms, even as they found out about big businesses like Amazon that are setting up offices in the city. They also incorporated recreations of police and fire stations.
"We had them do research online and make menus and menu items," Adams said. "We wanted to show them how a small town developed into a large city."
The students gathered to officially launch their hand-crafted version of Aurora on June 11, but the project will run much longer than a single day. Throughout the summer, the "Tourist Town" will serve as a unique kind of classroom, spurring students to create budgets, business plans and learn firsthand lessons about the story of Aurora.
"The kids will run the businesses and do dramatic play through the summer," Adams said. "We give them money, credit cards and gift cards and they can go store to store. We talk to them about budgets, starting up a business and costs."
The formal kickoff of June 11 drew representatives from the Aurora Chamber of Commerce, who were on hand with a ribbon and a giant pair of scissors to make the occasion official.
The pomp and ceremony impressed Angel Lanham, 10, who'd worked with fellow students to design and build a sushi restaurant. For Lanham, the research and the planning that went into creating the restaurant offered plenty of insights about the demands of running a business; the process also revealed interesting facts about her hometown.
"Our group voted on what we wanted to do and started working on it," Lanham said. "This makes me want to try new restaurants and see what I really like in the city. We built a little town, and this ribbon cutting is for opening it," she said, adding that the experience sums up what she enjoys about Cimarron's Before and After School Care Program in general. "We get to go places and do things that I don't get to do at home – we get to do fun stuff that I really like."