In a corner of Tara Brophy’s third-grade classroom at Samuel Staples Elementary School, there’s a make-believe town where students seek life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
In Magna Town (named after the magnetic strips used to design and build the city on the classroom floor), students are homeowners, neighbors and business owners. They handle neighbor disputes, run their own town meeting, decide who gets elected mayor, and strive to keep their town safe and residents happy.
Students built the miniature town, laid it out in a grid pattern on the classroom floor, added buildings, designed roadways, and built homes. They bought property with play money. Some chose a mansion, others bunked with friends. Along the way they discovered their individual passions and meaning of success.
“Success in town means doing what you love to find happiness,” said student Anna Gemski.
Several students opened businesses. Some of those are thriving, while others had to be rebuilt.
“Once my zoo was knocked down and I had to rebuild,” said Jade Murdoch.
Matthew Tsirakidis opened a car dealership in town. “I have a car dealership and it’s going really well because of our auctions,” he said.
Brophy said Magna Town exists only within her classroom walls but the lessons the students learn as citizens of the town extend into the real world.
“A lot of real- life conversations and debate come out of Magna Town,” said Brophy. “Students have respectful arguments, celebrate differences and even discuss mental health.”
Charlotte Lipman ran for mayor of Magna Town and won. Her platform was success and happiness for all and low taxes. Students learned the reality of paying taxes for government services.
“These tiny towns are not just projects,” said Brophy. “They are living, breathing, active opportunities that invite children to lose themselves in the learning.”
Every year that Brophy embarks on a tiny town project with her students, she sees brand new experiences emerge, often inspired by what is going on outside of school in the real world.
“My goal for each tiny town citizen to find their voice and to embrace the idea that they can affect change in our classroom, in this city, and out in the world,” said Brophy.