Students call her “Ms. Davida” and say she has changed their lives. She calls them “my children” and gets teary-eyed talking about their accomplishments.
They aren’t typical students. They have been in the criminal justice system, foster care and homeless shelters. Many are parents. All of them grew up in poverty and were unable to succeed in traditional school due to tough circumstances and behavioral issues.
Other adults may have given up on them, but fifth-year educator Davida Scott sees her students as success stories waiting to happen. And thanks to her efforts, many are becoming success stories. She changes lives by teaching employment skills, connecting youths with city leaders, offering internships that lead to careers, and being a support system.
Scott is a teacher on special assignment at Hayward Adult School. Nearly three years ago, she created Raising Leaders, a series of eight weekly workshops for students who attend Hayward Adult School, Brenkwitz Continuation School and Burke Academy for parenting students.
The workshops focus on employability skills, financial awareness, career exploration and educational opportunities. Guest speakers include civic leaders, judges, nurses, firefighters, California Highway Patrol officers (who teach their Start Smart young driver program), Comerica Bank executives, and others who share personal stories of overcoming challenges. Students receive five school credits, updated résumés and 16 hours of community service upon completion, along with the opportunity to interview for a paid internship.
“Raising Leaders teaches life skills while simultaneously preparing the next generation of workforce members in our community,” says Scott, a member of the Hayward Education Association.
“When I see students hopeful about their future and becoming confident, it’s priceless. Nobody can take that away from them.”
Raising Leaders has expanded and now serves 240 students in Alameda County with 164 paid internships in departments from Alameda County, local cities, and CSU East Bay. Students also participate in the Hayward Adopt-A-Block program, picking up trash on 25 blocks that Raising Leaders has adopted.
Workshops and internships are funded through the Alameda County Probation Department and Alameda County Supervisor Richard Valle’s District 2 Youth Initiative. Over the past year, Scott raised nearly $800,000 from local government and private donors to expand services. Going online during the pandemic allowed more students to enroll.
Ms. Davida, indeed, is making a difference.
“Without her, I’d be in jail,” says Brenda Gomez, who was on juvenile probation when she was referred to Scott’s program. “I was gang affiliated and up to no good. I didn’t go to school. Ms. Davida was always there for me. She told me to never let my past define me.”
Gomez, who had a child at 19, credits Scott with helping her graduate from high school as a fifth-year senior enrolled in independent studies. Scott took her to visit the local community college, and she enrolled. In June, Gomez will receive her bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from CSU East Bay, becoming Scott’s first student to graduate from a four-year college. She serves on the Hayward Police Commission.
A 15-year-old student living in a homeless shelter says Scott inspires her to stay focused on her online classes and think of the future.
“It has been hard living in a shelter, but Ms. Davida tells me I’m not going to be here forever, and that I should wake up early every morning, go to my sister’s place and do my studies. Her workshops have inspired me to go to college and start my own business someday.”
Yahya Elshawarbi graduated last June from Brenkwitz Continuation School. Through Raising Leaders, he was appointed to the Hayward Youth Commission and will have an internship with the Hayward Fire Department. He is enrolled at Chabot College and plans on becoming a firefighter, now that he has lost 100 pounds.
“Ms. Davida literally saved my life,” he says. “She’s the kind of teacher you see in movies. I was going through some very tough times. My parents were divorcing, I was moving into a new home after being evicted again. If it wasn’t for her, I’d weigh 400 pounds.”
Scott inspired Elshawarbi with the line, “Even roses grow from concrete,” and he is proud to be one of her success stories.
Scott is a success story herself. She was expelled from Hayward High School at 15. She moved in with her sister, who was a case manager of 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 then 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, and that’s what inspired me to build this legacy,” says Scott. “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.”
She has lost 20 students over the course of her career. Twelve were charged with murder, one committed suicide, and the rest were murdered. She dedicates her program to them.
“I knew I had to build a model that served our children who were most at risk,” says Scott. “I tell my students ‘The change starts with us.’ We need to be the change we want to see in our communities.”