And the school is beautiful inside, with student collaborations — giant murals, sculptures and collages — lining the hallways. It looks more like a hipster art museum than an elementary campus with skid row roots.
The charter was launched in 2002 by Para Los Niños, a 30-year-old nonprofit that pioneered social service programs for neglected children whose homeless parents were trapped by economics on skid row.
The neighborhood is students' laboratory and their lives the canvas for their discoveries. They take city buses to Disney Concert Hall, hike historic Sixth Street Bridge, study the architecture of Union Station and the history of Little Tokyo.
The school has an artist-in-residence and a team of visiting architects. Students practice math by designing their own playground, study anatomy by constructing a "human" body, learn about the ocean by creating an image out of glass beads, chicken wire and fabric scraps.
It may not be glamorous or high-tech, but the students I met and projects I saw make me believe it works.
My column on the campaign for a new Metro Charter drew applause for parents' efforts to create a downtown school that newcomers can shape through high standards.
But it also drew complaints about "boutique charters" that promote isolation and shortchange "impoverished children of color."
Para Los Niños Charter shows the choice is not so stark.
By using art as a forum for the study of math, science and history, Para Los Niños keeps its students from falling behind while they are still learning English.
That embodies the promise of the tax-funded charter movement: allowing unconventional schools to experiment in ways that will ultimately offer public school systems road-tested measures for raising student achievement.
Para Los Niños Charter works because it brings parents into the process, trusts its team to innovate and isn't hamstrung by district rigidity or by union rules. Teachers create their own lesson plans and can go where students' interests lead; the cafeteria ladies who serve the lunches also clean the tables after students eat.
And the principal is not above mopping up a sick child's vomit, or afraid to receive a second-grader's hug.
"The focus here," Campos said, "is on everybody doing whatever it takes to meet the children's needs."
That may not make it right for every family, but it does make the campus a model of what a charter should be:
Not just a refuge for students fleeing unsafe, uncomfortable or underachieving schools, but a testing ground for new ways of teaching that broaden children's possibilities.