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.
SAYS Program: At SAYS, writing is a
transformative, autobiographical, and transformative tool that
enables participants to critically reflect upon and read the
world around them. In this vein, literacy and learning are alive
in the lives of those we teach. Evidence obtained from research
on SAYS is showing that when students and teachers participate in
this critical literacy pedagogy together, we can not only improve
literacy skills, but also change the way students and teachers
relate to one another.
“By now, I’m sure you’ve all received many thanks for your hard
work in putting this event together over the last six years, to
which I can only add my own humble compliments: Wellman Hall, the
Quad, Freeborn Hall, and all of UC Davis for that matter was
absolutely illuminated this past weekend by the fierce radiance
of the SAYS Summit, for which I can only imagine tides of roaring
applause from the individuals after whom the workshops of the
event were named.
Each spring, hundreds of Sacramento area students compete in
local poetry competitions, or slams; ultimately, a team of six
students from SAYS compete at the International Brave New Voices
competition. All area students ages 13 – 19 are encouraged to
compete. Samantha Justice, a senior at Natomas Charter School’s
Performing and Fine Arts Academy in Sacramento, Calif., made this
documentary about the 2014 Slam Season.
“Penny 4 Your Thoughts,” established by SAYS Poet-Mentor, Andre
“Dre-T” Tillman, is an open mic, spoken-word program through
Foreign Native. Held at Sol Collective in Sacramento on Sundays
from 6:30-9:00 p.m., Penny 4 Your Thoughts shines light on
personal knowledge and experience to create cultural awareness.
The program is committed to enrich the poor and less-empowered
through collaboration with different community leaders,
activists, educators, artists, and other Sacramento locals.
Read more about Penny 4 Your Thoughts, Foreign Native, and watch
their spoken word on their website: http://foreignnative.be
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.