Holy Grail Social Justice in K-12 Public Education

Tell the truth. Tell the truth. Tell the truth.-Gregory Jaco

"You would never know, what you could ever be, if you never tried, you would never see..."

-Wasalu Muhammad Jaco

"Whatever job you do, make sure you do your best." Jesse Campbell (patriarch, teacher, saint)

Break the Chain

The Little Blue House that Jesse Built

As a girl, I loved to read and enjoyed listening to my older relatives discuss politics, religion, education, and family. We were always told, “...you can listen, but you cannot comment." And so we did. We used to gather in the dining room and sit under the table with our toys and snacks and play while the adults held thought provoking discussions that intrigued me.

My desire to become a teacher was based on those conversations as well as my father, mother, and stepmother's insistence that we make education our priority. I decided that becoming a teacher would allow me the opportunity to merge my two loves....reading and writing. I also knew that it would earn me a spot at my grandfather’s table discussing the very issues I had listened to for so many years. I remember sitting with my grandfather one day; he was drinking his usual, black coffee and reading his bible while I read the newspaper. He looked up and said, “I’m proud of you girls. You go to school, church, and you honor and respect your parents. Keep up the good work and study hard. Stay in school. Stay focused on your work. God will bless you.” I believed him. I did exactly what he said and I earned good grades, however, my life as a student attending public schools was difficult. I knew I was smart. I knew I loved learning new concepts and information. I also knew that I was bored and I doubted that anyone could teach me the way I needed to be taught. I used to challenge my teachers and debate with them every week in my efforts to “be fed” something other than worksheets. I hungered for information and intellectual conversations and would turn to my books for comfort when I was alone. I knew I needed something, but could not put my finger on it. I was dying and waiting on one of my teachers to say, “Let me take this one. She belongs to me. I’ll teach her.”

Never Forget You


My last year attending a public school changed my life forever. During that year one of my best friends was murdered while purchasing orange juice from a local corner market. I remember the disbelief that followed. Each day we expected her to walk around the corner and join us at “our spot”, where we would laugh, talk about our teachers, and eat candy for nourishment, but she never appeared. As we followed the case, we believed the woman that took her life would be held accountable. We were wrong. The murder of Tasha has always stayed with me. I have never forgotten the day I saw the person who took her life on television sitting on a bench outside of court. I remember thinking, “and if it was your child, would you have wanted your child shot in the back of the head...if not yours, why Tasha?” I made a decision, that if I ever felt threatened or unsafe walking to school, or while at school, then I would not attend. The murder of Tasha, and so many others, as well as the daily violence occurring around me, coupled with the fact that I was not learning anything made the decision to exit school an easy choice to make. Almost one year later, I dropped out of school for the final time.

A Grandfather's Love Letter

When my grandfather found out I was not in school he wrote me. I still have his letter to this day. In it he wrote that I should go back to school, honor my parents, and always pray. And so I did. With the support of my family and the help of a teacher, I studied for the California High School Proficiency Exam and passed scoring in the top percentile two years ahead of my graduating class. Today, I hold a bachelor’s degree from the University of California, Los Angeles in African -American Studies, and two masters' degrees. One from Loyola Marymount University in special education, and one in Educational Leadership from the University of California, Los Angeles.

My Philosophy

What I Believe...

As educators, our job is to provide support and love to our students. Of course we are also charged with providing students with knowledge so that they become critical thinkers and go on to become productive members of society however, education is so much more. Education is allowing a child to explore an idea until they have exhausted all avenues of inquiry, and then pushing them to go further. Education for me means creating safe spaces for children which are extensions of their homes and families so that they feel loved, valued, and appreciated. Our job is to impart knowledge however, this "knowledge" that we aim to impart onto students has little to no effect whatsoever if students are not receptive to us and if they do not feel safe. When students know they are safe, they flourish.

I believe that the purpose of school is to allow children spaces where they can grow as thoughtful, caring beings who care more for their fellow man then they care for themselves. This "safety" is not merely defined as freedom from harm or danger, but it is grounded in the knowing on the part of the child that they are loved, for one can only feel safe when one feels loved. It is this feeling that I endeavor to cultivate when I interact with students. It is important to me that they know that I love and adore them. It is important to me that they understand that I know where they come from and where they want to go in life. No student enters the classroom ready to fail. They enter with the hope that this teacher, this year, will understand them and their experiences. They hope that their teacher will be compassionate, kind, loving, knowledgeable and skilled, and hold them to high expectations. They hope that they won't have to explain every struggle and negative situation but that their teacher will endeavor to inquire and listen and learn from them. Many of our students are hopeless. It is our job as educators to steer them onto "hope road". In doing this, we are participants in creating a whole student. In doing this, we participate in creating ourselves.


As a future school leader, it is my job to smash policy designed to marginalize children. If we expect children to do well and have access to higher education, we must not be fearful to challenge those who choose to maintain the status quo. We must not be fearful to challenge those who regard their pay and position more than they do children. We must not be fearful to make difficult decisions and examine and reexamine policies that in effect cause children to fail. I am not fearful of making such decisions. However, this does not mean that I am not afraid. I am afraid of losing a student to gangs. I am afraid to lose a student who decides that dropping out is a better life chance than staying the course. I am afraid of losing a student who decides that his education is not worth fighting for. Those are my fears. What keeps me awake at night is not fear of being disliked. I stay awake at night because my thoughts are consumed with children and ways to make their education better. I endeavor to do the work that my teachers failed at when I was in school. I endeavor to do the work that was promised to me but not delivered. I endeavor to do the work of one who leads the charge of social justice regardless of the consequences, because it will eat away at my soul if I don't.


In order to reach students who have been historically excised from educational institutions we must approach our pedagogy with love. I don't know of any other way to educate children if I don't start with three simple words...I love you. Today, I am reinvigorated with ideas and my purpose is clear. I am a servant of God, and my only function is to serve children and my community. The work is gritty, but necessary and I often times ask myself how much more of this can I take? How do I go on...and then I hear a voice, and that voice whispers in my ear "...you will lead and you will do so with grace and I will give you strength, and you will be fearless, because you have work to do...we have work to do."

Form Follows Function: Differentiated Instruction

Examples of my student's "work"! (2010-2015)
Visual Schedule

As we move through the day, I turn over cards so that students understand what lesson comes next. I wanted them to respond to all cues given, not only verbal ones.

Whoo Whoo is Listening?

I always kept stickers handy...when students filled up their chart they earned a prize. This is a great strategy to keep your wiggly guys focused!

My Baby Girl Emma

She was my little general! If I said it...she co-signed on it. One day I dropped a marker and one of my student's started laughing. She turned on him and screamed, "You don't laugh at Ms. Campbell. Pick it up!"...and he picked it up too...she was my right hand.


When we found out he won the CST award for mathematics we all thought we were going to explode with happiness! He deserved it! On the last day of school he hugged me and said goodbye (he was on his way to junior high school). I began to cry, then his mother put her arms around us both and we all held one another and cried for several moments. We poured everything we had into Chris...we suffocated him with love.

The Crew

When I left this school to accept another opportunity elsewhere I cried in my bed for almost two weeks straight. I could not be consoled.

I loved them so much it broke my heart to leave them...

My Love

Okay okay I admit it. This little fella was my little shadow. He used to follow me around so much I created a Super Mario box around his seat. Whenever he felt the need to run up to me he would stop and jump up and down in his box which meant he really needed me. I would give him a little wink and he would come running to me at full speed.

One day we were working on vocabulary words and as I was walking around the room I noticed his paper had little hearts everywhere. I smiled and pretended I didn't see it but when it was time to pass out stickers, he received double! He knew I loved him. He knew he could always come to me and I would love him no matter what.

Time is of the Essence

I used to tell my little people that they were wasting my instructional time! They would laugh and I would say, "okay, two more minutes to wiggle then back to work!"

Red Light, Green Light

This tactile activity was shared with me by one of my daughter's teachers. She used pipe cleaner and beads of any color and created this model. You provide students with a picture then the word (e.g. /c/a/t).

Students touch each bead as they sound out the word. I loved it so much I took it back to my school site to implement. My creative juices started flowing and I decided that I should "tweak" it for my student population by making it resemble a traffic light as I was working with students who needed intensive support in all areas.

I would tell students "green means go so we start blending when we touch the green bead...the yellow bead represents vowels so gooooo slllooowwwww, and the red bead means STOP! No more sounds should come out of your mouth when you touch the red bead." They loved it! I even took them outside and played RED LIGHT/GREEN LIGHT so that they understood that each bead represented a sound.

We had so much fun and students learned initial, medial, and final sounds quickly!

Thank you Ms. Holguin for sharing your idea!

Show me the Money!

Visual learners need to see a depiction which shows them classroom and work expectations. You will never reach a visual learner with words!


"First, complete your journal entry...then you can have 5 minutes on the iPad!"

Ms. Campbell! It's NASA!!!

One of my students was obsessed with space. We created this for him...

We all Learn in Different Ways

...for our tactile learners.


When we started working with Dorian I was concerned that we would not be able to help him. I would stay up late at night pouring over research trying to find a way. He didn't know me. He didn't trust me.

I was beside myself because I felt his pain so deeply. One day he looked at me and his eyes flickered. My heart leaped in my chest because I knew I had him. I had him in my eye and I wasn't letting him go. I was working with him one day providing hand over hand support helping him form letters. His goal was to write the first letter in his name. I would sit behind him and whisper words of encouragement in his ear. "Yes. You can do it. Yes baby, you got it. Slowly. Good job." After tracing over two words with him I released his hand and continued to speak softly in his ear. "Keep going, you can do it."

What you are looking at is the most perfect letter. He did it on his own (no highlighter). I pushed my chair back because tears were streaming down my face. I put my head down then stood up and looked around the room. "He did it." I choked out. "Look at what Dorian did."

I squealed then twirled around and did a happy dance. It was a breakthrough. We had been working on writing his name for months. We never gave up on him.


The moment their eyes connected, they became one. He is the reason I went back to college. He is the reason I stay awake every night. When he left our program, we all held on to one another because we missed him so much. Emma suffered the most. It broke my heart to see the sadness in her eyes. It broke my heart because the light of her life never returned. I did my best to make her smile every day...but nothing could replace her soulmate.

I told myself that I would dedicate my life to creating a perfect school for my babies and will search for him, bow at his feet, and beg him to return to me.

He is "The One."

"You have the khan."-Denzel Washington

In my programs I define my instructional space and do not allow anyone to enter it. It is important for students to know that direct instruction is delivered from the "khan". As I train staff, we alternate who will deliver instruction based on my lesson plans. Often times I would walk to the back of the room and tell my paraeducator, "...you have the khan." I expected him to be "on point" and ready to tag in at any moment. I would watch him teach and give nonverbal cues to him from the back of the room so students would not see me. It was important that they understood that he was a teacher too.

Social Justice Leaders

My classroom was shut down due to the discovery of the dreaded asbestos. When we arrived to work, OSHA had sealed everything off. All our materials were locked inside. We were handed lemons but the assistant and I decided we could complain or make lemonade. We found an empty classroom, cleaned it and went to work. We made lemonade (and complained a little too).

We didn't have materials but we had plenty of glue, tape, construction paper, crayons, and markers ..."Let's make lemonade."

This video was me teaching a lesson on leadership six days after our classroom was shut down and two days after I was given access to another classroom. I was so grateful to work with an amazing assistant who stayed by my side and helped me clean and organize this classroom.

Sometimes God Closes One Door...in Order to Open Another

The door to this classroom was closed (and sealed off by OSHA) when we arrived to work. I had no idea what was going on. When I arrived to our classroom door with my students, everything was blocked and sealed off with yellow tape.

A few pictures of my classroom after OSHA sealed our room off (they wouldn't even let us have chairs to sit in or our toys because of the asbestos). We didn't gain access to our room until April and this is what it looked like when I was finally given access. I just stood around looking at everything tossed about. It took me several moments to register what we had just gone through for 2 1/2 months. All my charts, my student's work, my paperwork. I wanted to cry. I did cry. I rolled up my sleeves and cleaned this entire space by myself in 4 inch heels! I wiped my tears and did what I had to do for my babies. It took me all day and when I finished we had a small welcome home party.
My babies...finally home! Me after cleaning our space...my babies enjoying pizza.
Phonics vs. Graphophonics

Is phonics instruction useful? You decide...watch my video below and take a side.

You may use my video to support teaching and learning or for professional development opportunities. This video is under copyright and may not be used for any other purpose. (copyright 2010)

Reading is FUNdamental!

This is a video of my daughter reading while at speech therapy. She was diagnosed with severe autism and mental retardation. They told me she may never speak and that she should be placed in a center. I said "NO! She will learn, and I'll teach her." She used to tantrum daily, run away from me towards sunlight, self injure (bite her arm, bang on her chest, crash into walls and people, scratch, pull my dreadlocks out, suffer from PICA, spin, stim, scream, and attack babies (she thought they were dolls but then they would blink! I used to pray they would not blink because her little fists would fly into action!) She was only able to babble the first 4 years of her life, then something happened. All our work began to pay off. She started forming words, then phrases, then sentences. I don't listen to people. I listen to God. We had an amazing team of therapists and teachers who worked with me to support my daughter. It all started with Ms. Collins. Thank you to everyone who loved her and never gave up.

Veni, Vidi, Vici

We came, we saw, we conquered. We had an amazing coach who coached us to victory! Mr. Dave made sure we were ready...and we delivered! Our Tigers are champions.

Our coach Mr. Dave!
The Kids

...we arrived.

Family Day!

So much love...his entire family came out to support him!


Thank you to our parents who came out to support us!


This little guy came in 1st place in his track event!



The moment they met they clicked...they even had the same toys in their pockets. It was kismet!


Let's go!
Too Much Fun!

Enrique and I...


She wanted to make sure everyone could see her name.


These little geniuses!

Fun Run

She tied 1st place with another of our students in the "fun run".


I began my career teaching kindergarten at a private school in Los Angeles. I found my work to be rewarding and enjoyed the freedom afforded me which allowed me to design fun and engaging activities for my students. After working in this capacity for one year I leaped at the opportunity to work for Los Angeles Unified Schools. What joy my work has brought me through the years! I never knew what the day would bring as I picked students up from the yard or the school bus. My students were inquisitive, funny, kind, loving, tenacious, and wonderful little angels. The opportunity to make children smile each day is a blessing from God and I have truly been blessed! I’ve had a wonderful career teaching and believe that working with children in any capacity is noble if you want to make a difference in a child’s life.

Love Always Shines Everytime Remember 2 Smile

A Call to Action

Now more than ever, public education is on life support and in need of a jolt. As children continue to drop out of school and become apathetic regarding their education and life choices, the question begs to be asked...why can’t we reach these children? As a leader and future administrator, it is my job to ask hard questions of those who enter this field. It is my job to push the interests of children at every turn and advocate for those who do not have a voice.

"I am on the side of children, and once we as social justice leaders understand that we are here for children, our purpose and vision align. So I ask you, ...why are you here?"-John Sandy Campbell

Contact John Sandy Campbell


copyright 2015

Created By
John Sandy Campbell


John Sandy Campbell, MA, MEd

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