Sharon Cotliar
May 13, 2013 12:00 PM


In Wellston, Ohio, a town with shuttered storefronts and abandoned coal mines, English teacher Ellen McCabe often worried what her students would do after leaving Wellston High, where only a quarter of the class continued their education. “Many of their parents didn’t go to college,” she says. “They didn’t understand how to go.” So in 2011 she created a prep course called Journeys, in which she teaches seniors not only how to apply and get financial aid but also takes them on university visits. She brought campus reps and the ACT exam to the school for the first time. “She’s made a big impact,” says superintendent Karen Boch. In fact in two years, all 61 of her students have been accepted into college.

At 51, McCabe knows how important it is to pursue your dreams. After graduating from Wellston’s rival school, Jackson, “I wasn’t encouraged to go to college,” she says. She worked in retail “for a lot of awful years.” She eventually owned a successful sporting-goods store, but “I knew I wasn’t doing what I was meant to.” When her first marriage ended, she enrolled at age 38 and earned an education degree. Though she makes half the money she used to, she says, “I go to sleep and wake up happy.” Now she measures her success in acceptance letters. Says senior Sami Ousley, who plans to attend the University of Rio Grande in Ohio: “She goes crazy, jumping and hugging.”

“There are times when they hate me,” says McCabe, who sets the bar high for essays and community service. She also pushes her kids to think past college. Her classroom walls are covered with their dreams. “I want to own a home,” says one sign. “It’s the most amazing feeling,” says McCabe, “to see their goals and realize they’re already achieving them.”

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