Oscar Olivarria

Wake up, cross the border, go to school. For over 85% of Oscar Olivarria’s students at Calexico Mission School, this is a daily routine.

Once one of its students himself, Oscar Olivarria is now the Principal of this “little school on the border.”
Twin Cities, Important Ties

“The schoolyard at Calexico Mission School is quiet,”  writes Los Angeles Times reporter Hailey Branson-Potts, “save for a stray giggle here and there. Third-graders huddle for reading time: the girls lying beneath a shade tree, the boys under a blazing pink bougainvillea.”

Just beyond the school’s white picket fence looms the rusted 16-foot-tall steel fence that separates this farm town from the sprawling city of Mexicali, Mexico. The school sits about 50 feet from the fence — closer than a major league pitcher from home plate.

For most Calexico Mission pupils, who have student visas to make the crossing, the day starts in Mexicali. They wake up early, sit in traffic with their parents or in a carpool van and are dropped off at the port of entry. They hustle along the scuffed pink-and-white tile in the port’s pedestrian tunnel, passing pharmacies, newspaper stands and tables laden with tamales and pan dulce before joining the long line next to a sign that warns of guard dogs on duty. From there, they walk a quarter mile to school, in desert heat that can hit 120 degrees in the summer.

Calexico Mission School has garnered new attention from the press and the nation in recent years, as an example of important twin city and cross-border relationships, and the reality of families living in them. San Diego and Tijuana, El Paso and Juarez, Calexico and Mexicali — cities where deep economic, social, political and family ties provide a perspective on borders that may differ from that of others in the United States. This Nov 8, Oscar Olivarria will take our TEDxLaSierraUniversity audience through the reality for young people and their families living on the border, and the important relationships that border cities like Calexico and Mexicali depend on each day.

Calexico Mission School students stand next to the school fence, which is framed by the border fence, during a fire drill in Calexico, Calif. (Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)


About Oscar

Hailing from Mexicali, Mexico, Oscar Olivarría is currently the principal of Calexico Mission School, the very same Seventh-day Adventist K-12 institution that he graduated from over 20 years ago. CMS is a unique school that is literally located across the street from the Mexico-U.S. border. Thus, Oscar’s journey to school included crossing over an international border every day just like 85% of CMS’s current students who continue to do so today.

After graduating high school, in what was a leap of faith for an international student with very limited resources, Oscar enrolled at La Sierra University. It was there where he first became involved in the business of influencing and engaging in young lives as he co-funded a student led ministry to reach out to Hispanic youth in communities across California, Arizona, and Nevada. This experience set him on a course to become a passionate educator. For 15 years, Oscar served as Bible teacher and chaplain for Calexico Mission School, Glendale Adventist Academy, and Orangewood Academy. Having felt he had unfinished business at Calexico Mission School, he prayed for the opportunity to one day return. He got that opportunity 4 years ago as Principal. He currently lives in El Centro, CA with his wife and 3 kids.