Peabody’s Evolutions: Builds Skills & Friendships
When Carlos Soto was in elementary school, he looked forward to class field trips to the Peabody Museum of Natural History. So when he learned in high school about Evolutions, the afterschool program at the Peabody, he jumped at the chance to apply.
When Carlos Soto was in elementary school, he looked forward to class field trips to the Peabody Museum of Natural History. Like many young kids, he was into dinosaurs, bones, and pretty much anything prehistoric. So when he learned in high school about Evolutions, the afterschool program at the Peabody, he jumped at the chance to apply. Soon, the Career High School student not only learned a lot about science and had a cool job as a museum interpreter, he also met other curious and interesting kids from other schools who would become his close friends.
"Everyone here is self-selecting, so we get along," said Soto. "And we get to hang out at the Peabody Museum."
Soto was one of 100 students from New Haven and West Haven high schools enrolled in the Evolutions program. This competitive program accepts students who demonstrate an interest in environmental science but whose schedules are not overloaded with other extracurriculars. It also gives preference to kids who come from low-income neighborhoods or whose parents did not go to college.
First-year participants receive science education and college preparation classes. In their second year, students can qualify to become paid museum interpreters year round. Those who demonstrate the highest aptitude and commitment are admitted to a science lab internship at Yale, where they work shoulder-to-shoulder with undergraduates under the guidance of a professor.
A highlight every year is the trip to a top college or university in the northeast. For many participants, it is their only opportunity they will get to visit an out-of-state campus. For more than a few, it's the first time they've been outside of Greater New Haven.
Beyond the education and work experience, the social connections the students make with academically-focused kids from other schools are invaluable.
"For a lot of the kids, this becomes a second home for them," said Program Director Andrea Motto. "They will help out after school even when it's not their school day because it's a happy place for them to be."
The Community Foundation for Greater New Haven awarded a multi-year grant to expand the internship program to offer more paid positions and longer hours for students working as interpreters. Funding was made possible through unrestricted funds and the Barnett Family Fund, a designated fund established in 1986 by gifts from Joni Barnett in memory of her parents, Marion (a former docent at the Peabody) and Harry Barnett.
In their exit surveys, more than 90% of the students felt they increased their 'transferable skills.' Every Evolutions graduate goes on to college, according to Motto.
Kayla Williams, an Evolutions graduate who went on to Yale, liked her experience so much that she came back to be a mentor. She was drawn to the program because it was an alternative to sports and other more typical afterschool activities. It also gave her a comfortable place to be herself and grow.
"It wasn't 'work' here," said Williams, who plans to become a teacher. "It was a fun place for me to learn and to hang out.
Since 1986, the Barnett Family Fund has provided funding for programs, like Evolutions, that increase learning opportunities for New Haven school children in educational programs at the Peabody Museum of Natural History.
If you would like to establish a fund to support a program or cause that matters to you, please visit our ways to give page or contact Sharon Cappetta or 203-777-7071.