LA CROSSE, WI (WKBT) -

When you watch Misty Lown teach, you can't help but see her passion. But it's what she's most passionate about that might surprise you. "Dance is just the vehicle that I am using to get at the heart of kids."

And as owner of one of the biggest dance studios in the state, Misty has learned, the best way to get at their hearts is to open up hers. "We can do kids a real disservice if all they see is the image that things are perfect and put together for us. I think we better when we let them in our back-story and are authentic and real about our journey. Because then when they're the 12-14 year old sitting and feeling alone, they will look around and know they're not."

Misty knows what it's like to feel alone. "I remember getting teased for my size. I remember looking in the mirror and would see my peers being two full heads taller than I was so being small was something people could pick on me for. They picked on me for how I was dressed or for starting clubs. So it just seemed like in middle school every turn I made I was being picked on and not being included. Those were tough times. Middle school was not a fun time. But then when I got to high school, my parents got divorced. And I remember although they really tried to smooth out some of the adjustments, even their biggest efforts couldn't keep me from running with a bad crowd. I kind of got into a party scene. I developed some body image issues and really stopped caring about school. And that didn't feel good either. And then I felt trapped. I walked down the good road, I walked down the bad road and nothing satisfied my heart. And that was the loneliest place of all."

Misty felt invisible to the world. Until someone entered her world that truly saw her.

Diane Gebhart was the school librarian at Logan High School. "I literally remember her walking down the hallway one day and saying, 'Hey! We have a program for really smarty kids that don't get good grades,' I thought, 'I don't know if that's a compliment or not.'"

The program was academic decathlon. And Miss Gebhart thought Misty was a perfect fit. Academic Decathlon is all about challenging your mind; little did Misty know it would change her heart. "There was a room in the library at Logan High School. It was Miss. Gebhart's office and she turned it over to the kids. It was a windowless office and it had nothing special about it. It had a desk and books and a couch. But because it was filled with learning and opportunity and I was being pushed to a new level with my academics, that windowless room became my window to the world. And it was from there inside that office that I felt like I could see my future for the first time.  And it was great."

With one small act of compassion, Miss Gebhart gave Misty the one thing in life she desperately needed - a sense of belonging.  "I just felt like the long grey was over and that sunshine had finally broken through."

"She always had charm.  But now she knew how to use it," says Gebhart. 

"When I graduated from Logan I was a completely different person from where I started," says Lown.

Misty married her high school sweetheart and today she is the mother of five. "Having kids is the most challenging, hilarious, joyful, crazy job that I have ever had. But I love it."

And her other job, the job of teaching and mentoring 750 kids, that is the place where she can now embrace her past, to help guide their future. "I want to speak directly to the girl who's 12, 13, 14 year-old sitting at home right now and wondering if life is going to feel like this forever. If you are always going to feel lonely and confused.  I just want to tell you that it gets better. You're going to be the adult someday looking back at those years and you are going to say that your adversity was your advantage. That the rocks that could have tripped you are the things that you stepped up on. And you too are going to be able to encourage and inspire someone behind you. So hang in there. It does get better."