SHAKOPEE, Minn. (WCCO) — Minnesota’s newest Teacher of the Year hopes to change the image of at-risk teenagers.

She’s an English teacher at an alternative high school in Shakopee.

We spent some time with her in class today.

It’s clear that Kelly Holstine is a big fan of her students.

“They are phenomenal thinkers and writers and feelers. It is a safe place to be able to process feelings. Sometimes they might write about past stuff that’s happened to them or current stuff that they are trying to figure out,” Holstine said.

Holstine teaches English to 11th and 12th graders at Tokata Learning Center in Shakopee.

She says her passion for teaching stems from her own childhood experience as an outsider, and her appreciation of a teacher who understood her.

“She made me feel like I was smart and it was life-changing for me. I was a tomboy as a kid. I was, I am really sensitive. I grew up in a small town,” Holstine said.

Elizabeth King is a senior at Tokata. She wrote a letter nominating Holstine for the Teacher of the Year award.

“She has the ability to feel what you are feeling. She’s been through so much herself, that it is not necessarily hard for her to understand what you are going through,” King said.

“I used to be one of those people who was just lonely and sad all the time, but I opened up and now I honestly feel better than ever in my life.”

Holstine is a former social worker.

“Kids that are coined as at-risk, they are one of my favorite populations. Because they just have so much to give and sometimes it is not seen,” she said. “I don’t want them to slip between our fingers, we have a responsibility to see all of them.”

Her students see her as family.

Oscar Ruiz is senior and one of Holstine’s students.

“She is always happy and excited to see us, no matter where she is, she is always happy,” Ruiz said.

As Minnesota’s Teacher of the Year, Holstine will travel the state and the country speaking to other teachers about her experiences. She’ll also make a visit to the White House with the other state winners.