SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) – Sheryl Davis has been a teacher in San Francisco for 15 years. She started with kindergarteners at a private school in Pacific Heights, but when she volunteered her free time to teach low-income students in the nearby Western Addition, she was the one who learned something.

“There was a fifth grade girl who couldn’t write the sentence, ‘Winnie the Pooh is my friend,'” Davis remembered. “I had kindergarten boys who could do that, so that kind of woke me up to, ‘I’m walking around here and not really aware of the struggle and the disparity;’ there’s a huge academic gap that exists between… a matter of blocks!”

So Sheryl started a summer academic program and became Executive Director of Collective Impact, a nonprofit collaboration of 20 agencies dedicated to helping youth in the Western Addition area.

“I remember when we started, there was some gun violence, there were some homicides, and (I thought) what can we do to kind of keep the kids safe and change that?” Davis explained.

Today, Collective Impact is so much more. In addition to summer school, there are now job training opportunities, after school tutoring, sports programs, and neighborhood events for kids 5 to 18 years old.

“What was just this program with 40 students has now become this program, that by the end of summer, sees more than 100 kids and gives out back packs, and is beginning to make a difference,” Davis said.

It’s a difference that program graduate Ebony Crockett says changed her life.

“I was in the program and it helped me stay out of the streets,” Crockett said.

Crockett now works side by side with Davis at Collective Impact.

“I would say she helped me get back on track to school,” Crockett added. “I completed my high school years with her help.”

According to the National Summer Learning Association, more than half of the achievement gap between lower and upper income youth is directly attributed to unequal summer learning opportunities, which is why Davis’s program is so important.

During the critical summer months, 150 students take part in learning, sports, and new experiences that take them beyond the 10 square blocks of their neighborhood.

“I wanted them to have those experience that we so often take for granted,” Davis explained. “(Like) going to the wharf and walking around, or eating a bowl of chowder.”

So for creating new opportunities for students both in and out of the classroom, this week’s Jefferson Award in the Bay Area goes to Sheryl Davis.

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