EVOLUTIONS Afterschool Program

EVO students at Red Hill Woods. Photo by Andrea Motto.

By Julie Wagner

The BLT recognizes that youth involvement is crucial to the future of land conservation, but that the average American child spends 4-7 minutes per day playing outside, and over 7 hours per day in front of a screen.* Lacking time outdoors is particularly relevant for urban kids and those from communities that have historically been denied access to — or removed from — lands. Stark disparities in access to open space exist across income, education, race and ethnicity including right here along the shoreline. The BLT is addressing these issues with an exciting new initiative.

The BLT is partnering with the EVOLUTIONS (Evoking Learning and Understanding through Investigations of the Natural Science) Afterschool Program. EVO, as it is known, is a free, hands-on science, career, and college prep program at the Yale Peabody Museum for New Haven and West Haven public high school students. Established in 2005, EVO has grown to serve 100 area students each year through weekly classes, weekend employment, and summer internships, along with field trips, special events, and support through college.

Through peer mentoring and training provided by Sci.CORPS (Science Career Orientation and Readiness Program for Students), EVO students work as science educators in paid positions in the Museum, learning communication and work skills as content creators, exhibit interpreters, and event leaders. Students in 9th and 10th grade are eligible and, once accepted, remain through graduation and on through college.

The BLT worked with Richard d’Albert, board member of the Donald A. Pels Charitable Trust to collaborate on exposing EVO students to conservation related science, activities and experiences. After COVID delays, the partnership kicked off in the fall of 2021 with a BLT guided walk for several EVO members. The walk included introduction to trail blazes and navigation, ecosystems, land conservation, human history of the land, and the work of the BLT. Long range activities will focus on mentoring advanced standing SciCorps students to lead junior members on similar hikes through BLT properties themselves. This spring, activities will include a creative endeavor with EVO students producing a BLT promotional video. This summer EVO members will enjoy a day of “forest bathing” – a modern Japanese practice of paying attention to the five senses in nature — on BLT property offered by a certified guide.

“We are very pleased to support this partnership between the Branford Land Trust and Yale Peabody’s EVOLUTIONS Program,” said d’Albert. “This collaboration is an opportunity to share the resources of the BLT and provide students from the greater New Haven area with valuable insight into areas such as land conservation and the environmental sciences.”

Dr. Andrea Motto, manager of Public & Youth Engagement and Director of the EVO Program at Yale Peabody Museum agrees. “This partnership is a fantastic opportunity for the youth employees in Sci.CORPS to practice their teaching and communication skills, while learning from the passionate volunteers at BLT. We are excited to see this mutually beneficial project grow in the coming years.”

Through this program, the BLT hopes to foster access to nature for all young people and to create a pipeline of youth who are enthusiastic about land conservation and the science that supports it.

*Read about “Why Kids Need to Spend Time in Nature” on www.childmind.org.