Downers Grove teacher, gymnastics coach Kristyn Campos encourages students to ‘be the change’

Campos’ gymnastics teams have qualified for state in three of the last six postseasons

Right out of college, Kristyn Campos was hired as the Downers Grove South girls gymnastics team’s varsity head coach in the fall of 2007.

When she began her first teaching job in the school’s social studies department two years later, she admits being way more nervous.

“I felt more comfortable in the gym. I’d been in the gym since I was 7,” Campos said. “As a teacher, things change. A lot of decisions you have to make on the fly.

“There’s things you can’t anticipate all of the time and I’m wanting to do a good job, especially waiting two years and being in the department I wanted to be in. I wanted to do a good job and be able to learn and help students.”

Campos has taught sociology and U.S. history throughout her tenure, as well as multicultural studies in American society, contemporary American issues and sociology of gender. She may be known for telling “lots of lame jokes,” but she feels the more you can be yourself as a teacher, the more students will be receptive and engaged.

“I want them to have a more open-minded perspective of the world and to be open to listening and discussing issues so they have a more equitable and just society,” Campos said. “I want them to go change the world in ways they think are best. I want them to be the change – literally our department’s philosophy.”

Campos became interested in sociology when she attended Willowbrook High School. She received her bachelor’s degree from Concordia University Chicago and two master’s degrees – curriculum and instruction, and sociology and educational leadership.

Throughout college, Campos earned money as a gymnastics judge and working at an art gallery.

Before teaching, Campos was selling art, particularly by renowned nature photographer Thomas Mangelsen, and she occasionally traveled the country. Finding a good teaching fit required patience.

“I was very successful [selling art], but I missed kids, dealing with young people,” Campos said. “I was more authoritarian in my early 20s, but now I’ve learned through coaching and teaching that’s not the best way to work with young adults. They’re moving into adulthood and want to be treated as such. You just adjust and grow as an educator as you get older. You have to constantly change, trying to be innovative, having creative new ideas, not even in the gym but the classroom, especially lately with COVID.”

The past six girls gymnastics postseasons, Campos’ teams have won regionals and qualified for the eight-team state meet three times, the past two as a co-op with Downers Grove North in 2020 and this February.

One of Campos’ best teachers was Willowbrook gymnastics coach Beth Gray, an Illinois High School Girls Gymnastics Coaches Association Hall of Famer. A four-year varsity gymnast, Campos became team captain and an unofficial “mini-coach” with responsibilities such as leading stretches or organizing team events.

Gray, who also was a meet judge, encouraged gymnasts to shadow her and learn the craft. Campos and Gray were competing coaches for a couple of years before Gray retired, but Gray continues to judge. At the annual Addison Trail Invite in mid-December, Campos continued Gray’s coaching tradition of switching the gymnasts’ usual floor exercise routine music with holiday favorites.

“The girls just absolutely love it. [As a judge, Gray] kind of smiles when she sees us do that,” Campos said. “She was always really busy but kind of made us a priority and the meet experiences were something we always looked forward to. We’d stop at an oasis [on road trips] or bring goody bags. She probably doesn’t know that more of those experiences building the team is something I take a lot into my coaching.”