David Yellen
May 03, 2013 10:35 AM

English teacher Ellen McCabe would often ask her students in Wellston, Ohio, a rural area hard-hit by the economic downturn, what they planned to do after high school.

“I was shocked by how many of them had no plans,” she says. But she understood why so few of them did. “Many of their parents never went to college,” she explains. “I realized they didn’t know how to go to college.”

She set out to change that. McCabe, 51, created a college-prep course at Wellston High School called Journeys that not only teaches students how to apply but helps them find a way to pay for it. She also raised money to take her students on college visits, brought in campus reps and offered ACT college entrance exam at Wellston for the first time. “I want all the doors open for them,” says McCabe who herself enrolled in college after a retail career, at age 38.

In two years, all 61 students who’ve taken her class have been accepted into college. “This is the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done,” says McCabe, who is often called “Mom” by her grateful class. “She’s always there for her students,” says senior Mariah Bledsoe, who will be the first in her family to go to college.

Are You an Amazing Teacher?

PEOPLE magazine is looking for teachers who are changing the lives of their students, improving their communities, and paving the way for a new generation of leaders. If this sounds like you, we invite you to enter our second annual PEOPLE Teacher of the Year award. Six pre-K through 12th grade educators will be awarded a$5,000 prize, to be shared with their schools, with support from our sponsor Kellogg’s Frosted Mini-Wheats cereal. New this year: One Reader’s Choice winner, who will be determined in part by voting on People.com beginning August 15 – stay tuned to see those amazing candidates and pick your favorite.

Download the Teacher of the Year application

Entries will be accepted until June 7, 2013, and the winners will be determined by PEOPLE’s editors and an independent panel.

For a look back at last year’s winners, check out the video below.

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