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DAVIDA SCOTT REMEMBERS 2013 as if it were yesterday. It was the year her first student was murdered, and the year her first student was charged with murder.

A youth employment specialist at the time, she recalls crying in her office, wondering what she could have done to save her students from gun and gang violence, and drugs. She continued to lose more in the following years as she became an educator at Hayward Adult School. She came to realize that while she could not save her students, she could help build a pathway for them to achieve their goals — learning life and professional skills, getting a job, finding a career, making the most of opportunities and living productive lives.

Raising Leaders’ Youth Enrichment Program participants

Scott, far left, with students who are interning at 18 Hayward Unified elementary schools as part of Raising Leaders’ Youth Enrichment Program (at right: program coordinator Rina Serrano).

Scott works with children and youth who fall through the cracks and are mostly forgotten — kids on probation or in juvenile custody, kids in foster care, teen moms, homeless and at-promise kids, students expelled from traditional schools. She has spent her career as a teacher on special assignment at her school, and true to her commitment to build a pathway for her students, Scott created Raising Leaders — Workshops & Internships in 2018.

It’s been a challenging journey, but the program’s success has led to Scott winning a 2024 NEA Foundation Award for Teaching Excellence. She credits Hayward Education Association with supporting her efforts. “My union paved the way for me to build Raising Leaders even when I faced pushback from previous leadership at Hayward Adult School,” she says, adding that while administrators are now very supportive, it was difficult to convince them earlier that the program could be sustainable. “I would not be where I am now without [the union].”

The Educator first wrote about Scott in late 2020, recognizing Raising Leaders’ accomplishments in serving 240 students in Alameda County and collaborating with community to offer 120 paid internships and raising $800,000 from local government and private donors to expand services.

Fast forward three years, and Scott and Raising Leaders have:
• raised a total of $5.6 million — and counting;
• four certificated teachers and a full-time intern under Scott, all former students, who help manage her students (including a virtual class on Wednesday nights with 180 students);
• established a $1 million annual youth payroll so students, after taking her eight-week workshop that counts as credit recovery, can interview for and work at internships in city and county departments as well as CSU East Bay paying up to $24 per hour;
• started serving 8th graders in both continuation and traditional high schools, meaning the program now serves youth as young as 14 and up to 25;
• started serving youth in juvenile custody, who after they take the workshop can earn $20 per hour in paid internships, gaining work
experience — the first such model in the nation.

Davida Scott Raising Leaders store

Raising Leaders and Scott opened a store on campus where Pre-K-12 students can get free, brand-new clothes and supplies.

In addition, Raising Leaders has adopted 66 blocks in Hayward that students regularly keep clean as community service, opened a store on campus where Pre-K–12 students can get free, brand-new clothes and supplies; and expanded a program where students help with homework tutoring and enrichment activities in several school districts in Alameda County.

Davida Scott Raising Leaders firemen interns

Scott, center, with students interning with Alameda County firefighters, along with Raising Leaders staff, the Hayward Adult School director and the District 2 county supervisor.

Scott has forged partnerships with multiple city and county agencies and leaders, CSU East Bay, and community businesses and organizations; she taps all of them for internships, workshop guest speakers, funding and more. She is thankful for their support, and for providing top-tier opportunities. “Two of my former students are getting elite experience going out with firefighters on 911 calls!” she says proudly, referring to a Raising Leaders paid internship.

While touting what Raising Leaders has achieved, Scott is quick to note that it did not come easy. “I worked so hard,” she says, becoming emotional. “I forget how much I’ve been through and how hard it was. I never gave up, I just kept on going.”

Scott herself was a truant at Hayward High School and got kicked out of her house at age 15. She moved in with her sister, who was a case manager at a nonprofit that helped youth find summer jobs, and became an intern in that program. She liked helping others so much that she went back to high school and later earned her credential to teach adult education through the University of San Diego.

“I know firsthand what it’s like to be a troubled student,” she says. “I won’t let people tell me ‘no’ when it comes to creating opportunities for our children. When I see students hopeful about their future and becoming confident, it’s priceless. Nobody can take that away from them.”

In Scott’s application to the NEA Foundation selection panel, she makes clear the difficulties she’s faced: “By serving the populations I serve, I have been held at gun point twice [on campus] due to gang violence, I have been stalked, harassed and had my safety ripped away from me. Through all these trials and tribulations, I remained true to my calling which is being a teacher.”

Hayward Education Association President Mercedes Faraj alluded to these challenges in describing Scott’s impact in her nomination letter to the NEA panel. “She continued her calling to serve students that are the most at-risk within our community.

“Ms. Scott has been able to change the trajectory of hundreds of young lives and has dedicated her career to raising up an inclusive workforce for our community and our nation.”

Recipients of the 2024 NEA Foundation Award for Teaching Excellence will be honored at the NEA Foundation Salute to Excellence in Education on May 3, 2024, in Washington, DC. To hear more about Davida Scott and Raising Leaders, listen to the November 2023 ProBaytion in Alameda County podcast at

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