Manny Scott is more than familiar with some of the struggles facing students and educators today.
From broken or abusive homes to drugs, poverty and even suicide, Scott left virtually no stone unturned when discussing some of the personal issues plaguing today’s young adults and the daily challenges they face.
Scott himself was one of these students who faced unimaginable obstacles while going through the school system in Long Beach in the early 1990s.
Yet a chance encounter with a stranger and a passionate English teacher helped Scott realize his potential and set him on a path to the University of California, Berkeley, where he graduated with a double major in political science and rhetoric.
Scott shared his story of struggle and perseverance with thousands of high school and middle school students as well as teachers and administrators during three presentations held at Southwest High School on Thursday morning.
“Don’t give up,” Scott told the audience during the first presentation. “It can get better. You can still overcome and do something great with your life.”
Scott’s message of hope resonated with many of the students in attendance, while his personal struggle even closely reflected the lives of some of the students, teachers and administrators.
“He described some of the issues our students face on a daily basis,” said Jeanette Montaño, principal of Imperial County Office of Education’s Valley Academy School.
Montaño said in seeing her students react and answer Scott’s questions, she was able to learn more about their struggles outside of the classroom in a short period of time.
“We’re aware of some of the situations that affect our students, but they can be hard for them to talk about,” Montaño continued. “In a way this exposed some of those wounds and helped us to better understand them.”
Scott’s presentation even inspired some students to seek out Montaño and other Valley Academy School officials in order to discuss their personal struggles.
“We’re going to set up meetings with a couple of the students,” Montaño said.
The alternative education students were not the only students inspired by Scott as evidenced by the dozens that approached him for a hug, handshake or photo following his one-hour presentation.
“I actually came to see him because my friend wanted me to come with her,” said Southwest High senior Raquel Puente. “I’m so glad I came because I could relate to a lot of what he said.”
The 17-year-old said one thing she would likely carry with her for the rest of her life was Scott’s advice to dream and believe in oneself.
“I used to think that because of some of the things that have happened in my life I couldn’t do anything,” she said. “(Scott) changed that and inspired me to believe that I can really do anything that I want to.”
Scott, whose story and those of his classmates and English teacher, Erin Gruwell, were told in the 2007 movie “Freedom Writers,” came to the Valley for ICOE’s fourth annual English Language Learner Institute.
The two-day conference is targeted for teachers and administrators, yet given Scott’s known ability to connect with students, ICOE officials decided it was best for his message to be heard by as many students as possible.
“I’m just so glad that (ICOE) would bring someone like him to speak to us,” Raquel continued. “I think it’s something that a lot of us can relate to and something everyone needs to hear.”