Meet Mirna Campos: Succeeding in Life Without Sight, But With Incredible Vision

Mirna stands in front of student artwork smiling broadly

Mirna Campos has reached her goal of graduation and credits educators from RCOE and Jurupa Unified School District for helping her each step of the way.

Patriot High School class of 2018 graduate sets her sights on her future at California State University, San Bernardino

RIVERSIDE – When Mirna Campos was born premature after only eight months in the womb, she was immediately placed in an incubator for 20 days. Unfortunately, the lights meant to help her develop further were far too bright and her corneas were completely burned out without any eye protection. Despite numerous surgeries during her lifetime, she has never had any sight.

When Mirna started preschool, her inability to see did not prevent her from mixing it up on the playground with all the other rambunctious and energetic three year-olds.

“I loved all the fun and games and playing. I never realized I couldn’t see because all the kids were awesome and everybody would play with me,” Mirna recalls. “I never really had any type of fear. If I ran and fell and scraped my knee, I would get up and keep running.”

Little did she know that those early lessons of grit and resiliency would become a driving force for the rest of her life.

“I’m still that type of person today—that if I fall, I know I need to get up again,” Mirna said. “Those falls and knee scrapes taught me that there are things in life that will hurt. But, no matter how much they hurt, you have to get up and continue life. After the pain, the satisfaction of overcoming a challenge is great.”

LEARNING TO LEARN

Mirna’s journey to learning Braille coincided with her learning English at Sunnyslope Elementary School in the Jurupa Unified School District before she turned four years old.

“Mirna did not speak a word of English when I first met her as a preschool student, but that did not stop her from talking to us, participating in classroom activities, and engaging with her peers,” said May Lebbie, an itinerant teacher and orientation and mobility specialist from the Riverside County Office of Education (RCOE), who first worked with Mirna when she was in preschool at Sunnyslope.

With the help of district educators and teachers for the visually impaired at RCOE, Mirna rapidly learned letters and words and vividly remembers the joy of learning how to read.

“I was very excited when I felt my very first letter,” Mirna recalled. “That’s when I remember thinking, “Oh yeah! I’ll be able to read!”

Mirna remembers how Mrs. Lebbie put all her effort into teaching her all that she could. By the age of four, Mirna’s love of reading was just starting to blossom. As a teenager, Mirna still loves reading whenever she has the opportunity. Her love of reading also shaped Mirna into a great speller. In the 5th grade, she competed in her school spelling bee and finished second overall after a grueling 32 rounds of competition.

SUPPORT AT HOME AND SCHOOL

As an only child, Mirna’s parents strove to ensure that Mirna would be comfortable in any environment—caring for her needs and motivating her to keep pursuing her dreams.

Over the years, she has become a master with many different canes while maximizing the intelligence she gains about her environment via her other senses. A few times, among big crowds, her cane has been broken by others who aren’t paying attention and accidentally step on it.

“Whenever I go to a new campus, big crowds are a challenge,” Mirna said. “Over time, I learn the echoes or familiarity of certain sounds—how a door shuts in a hallway, or never shuts at all. I can sense the difference of being under cover, or, if it’s a stairwell, I can hear tables and chairs moving above.”

In public places, Mirna and her mother initially took different approaches to the uncomfortable nature of being stared at in public. Mirna understood her mother’s instinct of getting upset and wanting to confront them, but Mirna helped her adjust her mindset over time.

“I knew when she was getting frustrated because I could hear her breathing change, and she would turn and tell me that somebody is looking at me and staring at me,” Mirna said. “I told her that I actually didn’t mind stares, as long as they didn’t say things that offended me and that she needed to learn how to ignore them.”

Around Patriot High School, Mirna’s mobility aides have helped her identify everything from benches and garbage cans to distinctive shrubs and sidewalks to help with wayfinding.

“The custodians and grounds team here at Patriot High School have been great as we’ll ask them not to trim back certain bushes or move certain items because they are important landmarks for Mirna,” said Tomeka Drain, Mirna’s student assistant aide who also helps ensure that Mirna receives the classroom support and materials she needs to succeed.

PREPARING FOR LIFE AFTER HIGH SCHOOL

At Patriot High School, Mirna has challenged herself by taking multiple advanced placement (AP) courses. She studies for an average of four hours each day which has led to a cumulative 3.5+ grade-point average.

“Even though it has been rigorous, I feel it has shaped me into preparing me for college life,” Mirna said. “The AP classes taught me to never underestimate or overestimate the work and to create boundaries with my time and study habits.”

Mirna’s support team also prepared her for life after high school by helping her navigate the completion of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and multiple lengthy college applications. Despite being accepted into multiple University of California campuses, she selected California State University, San Bernardino (CSUSB).

She was recently surprised with the news that she was selected to receive a scholarship from the California Council of the Blind’s Inland Empire Chapter.

“I never expected it and can’t even describe the burst of excitement,” Mirna said about the moment she was notified of the award when she and her parents were called into the principal’s office. “I felt a warm feeling in my heart and a knot in my throat with so much happiness and disbelief all coursing through me.”

She has already made multiple trips to the CSUSB campus to begin assimilating to the whole new world of a sprawling university campus.

After taking an advanced placement psychology class at Patriot High School in her senior year, Mirna decided to make clinical psychology her major due to her strong desire to help people.

“I wish, more than anything, to help as many people as I can,” Mirna said. “I feel that everyone deserves someone to talk to, and someone to listen to them. I’m doing it because that is what my heart is for—to help others.”

As she approaches graduation, it is her participation as part of the Patriot High School choir as a sophomore that Mirna describes as “a stress reliever” and “the best time of my life.”

“Once you sing, it releases so much tension that it would carry me throughout the day,” Mirna said. “If I entered the class with a frown on my face, I would always come out with a smile and so much satistfaction.”

Her choir teacher, Matthew Netto, remembers Mirna as a kind, and positive force in the choir who never shied away from any activity.

“She loved singing so much and her hearing was incredibly accurate,” said Matthew Netto, choir director at Patriot High School. “Though some would call her situation an impairment, it also brought her a depth of character and social awareness unmatched by her peers.”

Mirna still sings today—especially on the challenging days where she needs some type of relief.

“There were times when the future seemed so far from me, and I didn’t think that graduation day was ever coming,” Mirna admitted. “Graduation is going to be one of those ceremonies where I’m going to feel super proud of myself being able to make it through,” Mirna said.

Her hope is that people would recognize that, despite her visual impairment, she has the same feelings and goes through the same struggles as everybody else. And, if she happens to fall and scrape her knee on the graduation stage, nobody will be surprised when the satisfaction of reaching her goal drives her to get right back up and continue running toward her future.