SAYS Mission: Sacramento Area Youth Speaks
(SAYS) is a program within the UC Davis School of Education CRESS
Center that engages, educates, and empowers students, poet-mentor
educators, and teachers in a collaborative, innovative
partnership both within and beyond the walls of school.
Host MC Luhan interviews SAYS program managers and poet mentors
about SAYS, the program’s community connections and the annual
SAYS Summit and poetry slam hosted by the School of Education.
the program here.
As SAYS continues to broaden and deepen our work, we are honored
to announce the new SAYS Advisory Board. This group of critical
stakeholders will support the ingenuity of our program, pushing
us to think and act in new ways.
Excerpt from “Sacramento Area Youth Speaks (And the World
One day in high school, while on a field trip to Sac State for an
African-American student leadership conference [Dre-T] stumbled
upon a Sacramento Area Youth Speaks workshop. He was immediately
As the group of teens shouted their poems from every corner of
the room in a guerilla poetry spectacle called Griots (which are
an ancient West African tradition that S.A.Y.S has adopted)
Tillman was captivated. “I’d always been hungry for knowledge,”
he explained, “S.A.Y.S had the food for the thought I was
starving for and they knew I was hungry.”
In January of 2010, SAYS initiated a six-week poet-mentor
training program focused on Effective Pedagogy and Artistic
Development. SAYS recruited 15 poet-mentors from UC Davis
and the larger Sacramento Capital Region. These 15
poet-mentors represented a diverse cross-section of individuals
from various economic, social, and educational backgrounds.
Each of the poet-mentors shared a passion for poetry and a deep
commitment to teaching disadvantaged youth. Through the
recruitment process we created a diverse and dynamic team.
However, after reviewing the initial
Dr. Vajra M. Watson, Director of Research and Policy for Equity,
has been developing praxis to improve education for well over two
decades. At the crux of her praxis is a commitment to close the
achievement gap, to close the gap between research and practice,
and to actually heed the call to leave no child behind.
Dr. Watson’s current work focuses on holistic reform efforts for
chronically under-performing schools in rural, suburban, and
urban communities. In these settings, she specializes in
supporting the achievement of at-risk and high-risk youth
alongside transformative culturally relevant professional
development for teachers and leadership training for
administrators. She has found that larger system changes must be
teacher-driven, but that learning must always be
student-centered, especially for students who have disengaged
Ph.D., Graduate School of Education, Harvard University
M.A., Learning and Teaching, Graduate School of Education,
M.A., International Education, Graduate School of Education,
B.A., Political Science/International Relations and
Education, University of California, Berkeley
Grants and Projects
(2010-2014). $1,000,000. California Postsecondary Education
Commission Improving Teacher Quality grant. A culturally
responsive professional development and research program for
middle and high school teachers in a high-poverty district.
(2012-2013). $75,000. Sierra Health Foundation Positive Youth
Justice Initiative. A research grant to examine best practices
and systemic barriers for crossover youth in Solano County.
(2009-2013). $200,000. Sacramento City Unified School
District contract for SAYS programming in after-school programs
throughout the district.
(2009-2012). $75,000. Student Improvement Grant. A program
grant to Sacramento Area Youth Speaks (SAYS) to conduct classroom
residencies at a low-performing high school.
(2012). $10,000. California Wellness Foundation. A general
program grant to support Sacramento Area Youth Speaks (SAYS).
(2009-2011). $60,000. Twin Rivers Unified School District
contract for SAYS professional development and classroom
(2010-2011). $14,000. Elk Grove Unified School District
contract for SAYS after-school programming at Jackman Middle
School and Valley High School.
(2010-2011). $50,000. Sponsorship received to initiate annual
Equity Summit. Among the consortium of institutional support: the
UC Davis Office of Campus Community Relations, UC Davis Center
for Regional Change, California Teachers Association, Yocha DeHe
Wintun Nation, Davis Joint Unified School District, UC Davis
Betty Irene Moore School of Nursing, Yolo County Office of
Education, Sacramento County Office of Education, Sacramento City
Unified School District, and the Sierra Health Foundation.
(2010-2011). $15,000. Sacramento County Office of Education
contract for SAYS programming at Juvenile Court and Community
(2009-2010). $50,000. Sierra Health Foundation program grant
to build the capacity of SAYS.
(2009-2010). $40,000. Youth Speaks, Inc. contract to launch
Publications and Working Papers
Watson, V. (2012) Learning to Liberate: Community-Based
Solutions to the Crisis in Urban Education. Published by
Watson, V. (Fall, 2003). Reflections on the Juvenile
In-justice System. Community Justice Network For Youth
Watson, V. (1999). Lighthead in Starvation. In We are the
ones we have been waiting for, J. Jordan (Ed.). Berkeley:
University of California Press.