REEDSBURG, Wis. (WMTV) -- "All set?" Karla Campbell asks her students joyfully as she claps to the beat. They respond in unison, "You bet!"
Campbell has spent 22 years trying to help her students see what is possible.
"Remember our key word from this morning was to.. what was the word?" she again asks the students. They reply in unison, "Visualize!"
It's a skill Campbell herself learned to master this school year.
"The very first thing I did in the morning was I always meditated," recalls Campbell, "I would visualize myself, healing myself number one, and two, I would visualize my day."
Diagnosed with breast cancer in May of 2018, Campbell was determined to get back to her classroom. Despite a summer filled with treatments and hospital visits, Campbell found strength through her students at Pineview Elementary School in Reedsburg.
"My students have always been important to me, but going through this, coming to them everyday, they were my rock," explains Campbell as her voice quivers with emotion, "I would walk in and there was a smile, a handshake, and I knew even if I didn't feel good… excuse me, I'm getting a little worked up… even if I didn't feel good that day, they were there… for me."
"She really has not missed a beat, even though she's missed some school due to her battle," says fellow teacher, who is now retired, Dana Westedt, "She really has just been here in spirit the whole year."
Both Westedt and Jodi Beyer have known Campbell since she walked into the building as a first-year student.
"From the outside it looks easy, but she's really... she's really just, I don't know how to put it…," says Beyer as Westedt jumps in to finish her sentence, "One of the strongest women we know." Beyer replies with a smile, "Yeah, thank you Dana, she is!"
She's so strong that Campbell's personal cancer fighting motto is to be a gladiator. To honor that vision, Beyer designed t-shirts. And before long students, staff and hundreds of Reedsburg residents were proudly sporting "Team Gladiator" shirts.
Campbell smiles as she reflects on that, "It makes me feel proud that I have a lot of people that care.. yeah."
And her friends say her positive attitude is not only inspiring them, but also her students.
Third grader Aubrey Wall had Mrs. Campbell for first grade. "I myself have juvenile arthritis," explains Wall, "So I learned that she's so strong through it all, so I'm just, it's amazing! And I've learned to be strong through it all, no matter what."
Beyer adds, "I just think for wherever they go in their life, they're always going to have the role model as, my first grade teacher was able to overcome, have that mindset that we can do this! We did it together."
So together we honor this teacher for her strength of mind and body and her vision of what is possible.
"Your 2019 Crystal Apple winner, Mrs. Karla Campbell," Leigh Mills shouts through the microphone at an all-school surprise assembly.
Campbell walks up to receive her award and says, "Wow, what an honor! I don't have enough words to say thank you to all of you and all of my staff members.
"All of us want you to go out into this world and be kind people, be honest, hard working, loving people."
Campbell is now cancer free. She still takes a drug every three weeks as a preventive measure, but she's hoping to be finished with that protocol in September, and that will be another day to celebrate.
Our final two honorable mentions go to:
Connie Johnson, a teacher at Meeting House Nursery School in Madison, for dedicating 43 years to the preschool and the thousands of families it has served.
Oscar Mireles, director of Omega School, which helps adults earn their GED, for spending the last 25 years giving young adults in Dane County a second chance to get their high school diploma and live up to their full potential.