The Blue Tarp School

By David Simmonds

The Kids

It was the summer of 1980 when David Lynch, a special-ed teacher from Long Island, New York, traveled to Tijuana with some others to volunteer in a colonia by the municipal dump. As David tells the story, the kids in the colonia were the children of the “trash pickers”, or pepenadores. That is how they made a meager living, by recycling other people’s trash. He quickly noticed that they had no school to attend, so he spread a blue tarp on the ground and asked the kids to join him there. Every day more kids would show up and David would do what he does – teach. Now, 31 years have passed and David is still there. Over 6,000 kids have attended the school and have had their lives forever changed because one man decided to do something bigger than himself.

Illustrated by Hernan Sosa

Thanks to word-of-mouth and media coverage there is now a two-story school built on the original blue tarp site, built with donations (including Susan Sarandon) and a lot of hard work. Felipe Gonzales was one of David’s first students, one of the dump worker’s sons. He is now a teacher at the school, one who knows how important it is to be given an education – a chance at a better life. Many other students have gone on to lead equally productive lives as professionals, shop owners, factory workers and on and on.


I met David Lynch when my son, Tanner, a high school junior (who has just been elected ASB President), was looking for a community service project in which to be involved. His research led him to call David Lynch and ask what he could do to help out. Since I have years of driving in Mexico experience, I offered to join Tanner in driving the school’s large van on field trips, which we have done on several occasions. And then more recently, Tanner spearheaded a Santa’s Gift project at his high school in San Diego, collecting over 200 Christmas gifts for the kids at the Tijuana school. The kids were amazed and so grateful, but what struck me more than anything else was how genuine, curious and well-mannered they are. They expect nothing and appreciate everything, seemingly forgotten traits by many kids north of the border. I think Tanner has learned more than he thought possible by his interaction with the Tijuana kids, about humility, perspective and acceptance.

Tanner with some of Santa’s Gifts

There is a children’s book about all of this called Armando and the Blue Tarp School, and David Lynch’s web site is here


Disclosure:  I am being compensated for my work in creating and managing content as a Contributor for the México Today Program.  All stories, opinions and passion for all things México shared here are completely my own. Mexico Today is a joint public and private sector initiative designed to help promote Mexico as a global business partner and an unrivaled tourist destination.