Peabody after-school program for local students awarded Avangrid grant

Evolutions Afterschool Program in the Great Hall of the Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History.
Kierstin Turnbull and Adira Ahmad-Rizal, students in the Peabody Museum’s Evo after-school program, staff an information display in the museum’s Great Hall. The Avangrid Foundation recently awarded the Peabody a grant to help sustain the after-school program while the museum’s building is closed for renovation. (Photo credit: Alana Ladson)

When Avery Sage was a student at New Haven Academy high school, he participated in the Evolutions Afterschool Program (EVO) at the Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History, an experience that he credits with nurturing his passion for science and preparing him for college.

Five years later, Sage has bachelor’s degrees in psychology and English from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. He has returned to EVO as an instructor in its Sci.CORPS program, which offers students the opportunity to work as paid educators in the Peabody Museum. His position is a one-year fellowship meant to bring EVO alumni back to the museum to share their skills and experiences with the program’s students. 

EVO was a place where I felt safe throughout high school to express myself and my love of science,” Sage said. “Now that I am part of the program’s administrative team, I’m able to provide and foster this safe space for other students.”

The fellowship is one initiative made possible in part through a partnership between the Peabody Museum and the Avangrid Foundation that will help sustain and advance the free after-school program. As part of the partnership, the foundation — the philanthropic arm of the energy company Avangrid, which includes the United Illuminating Company, Connecticut Natural Gas Corporation, and the Southern Connecticut Gas Company — has awarded the museum a three-year $125,000 grant to provide core support to EVO as the Peabody prepares to close its building for a major renovation. The three-year commitment follows an inaugural grant last year that helped fund the Sci.CORPS fellowship program.

The Avangrid Foundation’s generosity gives us the flexibility to think a little more creatively about the program particularly as we move toward the renovation and temporary closure,” said Andrea Motto, the program’s director.

Each year, about 100 students from public high schools in New Haven and West Haven participate in EVO. The program promotes STEM literacy, college preparation, career awareness, and the development of certain skills that facilitate success in the classroom and workplace, such as communication or leadership skills. It includes a weekly class led by Yale students centered on STEM-related activities, monthly workshops and special events, and field trips to the Peabody Museum’s collections, Yale laboratories, and other science museums. Through Sci.CORPS, about 30 to 40 students each year serve as paid employees of the museum. The program also provides students with work experiences in Yale laboratories.  

Sage’s fellowship is a means to extend the program’s influence by offering job opportunity to former students who have earned a college degree, Motto said.

It makes our pathway into STEM fields is a little more cohesive,” Motto said. “The EVO experience doesn’t just end when students graduate high school. Now we will continually provide a job for EVO alumni, which will further help them gain a foothold into a career in science and science education. We’re extremely thankful to the Avangrid Foundation for making that possible.”

The foundation has also helped fund the recent restoration of the Peabody Museum’s iconic North America dioramas.

Nicole Grant, director of the foundation, said the EVO program embodies the Peabody Museum’s status as an important gateway between Yale and the local community and called it “a model of excellence.”

EVO provides a truly wonderful service to students in New Haven and West Haven,” Grant said. “It provides the students knowledge, skills, and experiences that help them transition into college, careers, and adulthood. It is an amazing program.”

The funding is intended to help the program grow and flourish while the Peabody is under renovation. The museum’s Great Hall is scheduled to close in January and the remaining public galleries will close on June 30, 2020. The renovation and closure will last at least two years.

Two years is a long time to not have your home base,” Grant said. “EVO has been valuable and transformative for so many young people and we don’t want to see it be diminished. We want to help them find their place outside of the walls of the museum.”

For his part, Sage said the fellowship has given him a chance to witness the intellectual and personal growth of students in the EVO program.

The program offered me opportunities that helped me prepare for college; now I find it comforting that I can provide these same resources to current high school students,” he said.

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Mike Cummings: michael.cummings@yale.edu, 203-432-9548