A Peabody Museum afterschool program lights the way to Yale College

Going to Yale wasn’t something Daniela Flores thought she could do when she was growing up in New Haven’s Fair Haven neighborhood, about 10 minutes northeast of the city center.

When I was much younger, I had this idea of a typical Yale student in my head,” said Flores, 18, a recent graduate of Wilbur Cross High School and incoming member of the Yale College Class of 2024. “That was not something I imagined for myself.”

Daniela Flores ’24
Daniela Flores ’24

Even after Flores, who will be the first in her family to attend college, had spent countless hours on the Yale campus as part of the Peabody Museum’s EVOLUTIONS program, receiving news of her admission as a bona fide undergraduate came as a shock: “It was all very surprising and a lot to take in at the moment.”

She credits EVOLUTIONS — Evoking Learning and Understanding through Investigations of the Natural Sciences, or simply “EVO” — with opening her eyes to the possibility of a college education, and the possibility of a Yale education.

(In addition to EVO, Flores also participated in the Yale School of Music’s Music in School’s Initiative, and received a Shafer Family Scholarship to attend Yale Summer Session last summer.) 

As I went through the programs Yale provided, like EVO, college seemed something that was more accessible to students of different backgrounds,” said Flores, who accepted Yale’s offer of admission in part because of the school’s robust support system for first-generation college students and because being close to home would make it easy to share her new experiences with her family, she said.

I want that typical college experience of my parents helping me move in,” she said.

Started in 2005, EVO is a free after-school program for high school students in the New Haven and West Haven public school districts. The program serves about 100 students each year, averaging 25 per class. Students typically enter as 9th- or 10th-graders, and continue for the duration of high school. 

EVO teaches science literacy, fosters interest in STEM, and prepares students for college. Participants get hands-on experience in STEM fields through experiments, activities, field trips to colleges, and summer internships in Yale labs.

Sci.CORPS (Science Career Orientation and Readiness Program for Students), a paid work experience offered in the last two years of EVO, trains students to work at the Peabody Museum as “science interpreters.” As Sci.CORPS employees, EVO students interact with visitors, helping explain exhibits through props and dialogue. 

Under the supervision of EVO director Andrea Motto, Sci.CORPS has grown significantly, and now employs a staff of 30 young people. Before the implementation of social distancing measures, student employees worked on the museum floor every weekend and “became the public face of the museum,” Motto said. Flores has worked for Sci.CORPS since the fall of 2018.

EVO maintains relationships with its alumni, and has seen a number of participants graduate from college and go on to careers in STEM and other fields. Motto, who became director in 2012, said “the really exciting thing recently is to see students recruited as 14-year-olds now graduating from college.”

Flores and her EVO class
Flores and her EVO class

For the most part, she said, “students who graduate as seniors are all accepted to one or more colleges.” And at least one student from the last six EVO classes has been accepted to Yale.

It’s pretty incredible for six consecutive classes of 20 high school kids to have Yale acceptances in all of them,” she said.

This year, that student was Flores.

Meeting and working alongside the Yale undergraduate and graduate students teaching EVO classes helped Flores realize that college could be part of her future even though it hadn’t been for anyone in her family. 

EVO made sure that every instructor spread the message that colleges strive to make sure their students represent different communities throughout the country,” she said.

Flores said her favorite part of being a Sci.CORPS interpreter was interacting with the museum visitors. The experience informed her thoughts about her future at Yale and beyond. In addition to studying chemistry, she’d like to stay involved in both teaching and community service. She also hopes to continue working with EVO as a Yale undergraduate.

Although the Peabody had planned to close galleries in July for major renovations, COVD-19 led them to do so a bit earlier than expected, and many of the museum’s resources and activities have since moved online. Motto said EVO students have assumed a prominent role in developing the museum’s online presence. 

These are young people with a lot of talent, energy, and skill,” she said, “so having them help us think outside the box about how we can best serve the communities we all live in made a lot of sense.”

Chris Norris, the Peabody’s director of public programs and exhibitions, said the museum views EVO as a partnership between the museum and the students. “Their presence here enriches the museum, guides and informs our programming, and makes us better servants for the New Haven community,” he said.

A Yale alum and New Haven resident recently provided EVO with its first endowment, helping secure the opportunity this partnership represents for local students and for Yale. The Anna Altman Fund for EVOLUTIONS “brings the story full circle,” said Norris, “by demonstrating the program’s capacity to unite the Yale and New Haven communities around support of our youth.”

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