For More Than Two Decades, Dwight Hall Public School Interns Provides Undergraduates an Unparalleled Look Into New Haven Public Education

Dwight Hall Public School Interns (PSIs) is a two-year program during which undergraduates serve as liaisons between a New Haven public school and the Yale community by supporting current volunteer efforts in the schools and finding new ways to match resources at Yale with the needs of schools. PSIs also help strengthen and inform the work of over 30 Dwight Hall Education Network groups (including student-led member groups like Code Haven, New Haven Urban Debate League, and MathCOUNTS) and Yale volunteers interested in supporting public education, thereby increasing the accountability and consistency of Yale tutors and programs in local public schools.   

PSIs is part of the Grow pillar of Dwight Hall’s program delivery, which is organized around three principles: Engage, Grow, and Advance. Under Grow, PSIs develops students’ intellectual, moral, civic, and creative capacities to the fullest with experiential learning, mentorships, and training. 

The program was first launched at Yale’s Office of New Haven Affairs (ONHA), which was established in 1995 to serve as a portal between the university and the New Haven community by advancing partnerships that foster economic development, revitalize neighborhoods, support public school and youth programs, and create a vital downtown. 

Claudia Merson joined the office as the inaugural Director of Public School Partnerships, a position she holds to this day. As she set out to conceptualize what effective programming would look like between Yale and New Haven public schools, Claudia noted the need for Yale to make a “deeper commitment to the city of New Haven, becoming a real and long-term partner that could engage with the community in a more sustained fashion. We needed people to trust that if we’re offering help today, we’re going to be offering to help tomorrow.”  

Extensive research and conversations with local public school administrators, principals, and teachers helped form the structure of the PSIs program, which launched in 1998 and would model the mission of ONHA by having Yale undergraduates serve as the portal between Yale and New Haven public schools. 

Dwight Hall Interns would be assigned a contact at public schools that requested a student and they would spend 10 hours a week working on- and off-site at the school over the course of two years. PSIs would have to be “bilingual,” as Claudia put it, speaking the languages of both university and school, and using their growing knowledge of their school to connect it with curated Yale resources and volunteers.  

“The main focus of the program design is not the Yale student experience–though it is fantastic,” emphasized Claudia. Rather, the aim is “genuine service to a local school by doing what Yale students do best–connecting that building to appropriate resources at the university.”

Claudia and Dwight Hall Director of Programming and Evaluation Mark Fopeano now closely collaborate to implement leadership development opportunities for Yale PSIs and academic enrichment experiences for New Haven public school students. The program is guided by important principles and rules of thumb, including never introducing a PSI at a school that has a new building leader, and only placing PSIs in schools that are interested in and able to handle external resources. 

The 2023-2025 cohort of PSIs is comprised of 11 PSIs, with four interns working at K-8 elementary schools (East Rock Community & Cultural Studies Magnet School, Elm City Montessori, Truman School, and Worthington Hooker School) and seven interns working at high schools (Cooperative Arts and Humanities High School, High School in the Community, Wilbur Cross High School, Hill Regional Career High School, Metropolitan Business Academy, New Haven Academy, and Common Ground High School). 

Jaehyun Kim ’24 serves as the PSI Co-Coordinator for the 2023-24 academic year, advising the current class of interns. Now a senior, he became a PSI as a sophomore in fall 2021, when he was placed at Worthington Hooker School (WHS). The program was put on his radar early on in his college career, when his first-year counselor–also a former PSI–recommended the experience. “She emphasized that PSIs is one of the few programs where you really get to be a part of a community that is not Yale, and that is not built on or centered through Yale.”

Jaehyun also found this to be true in his own experience. “For me, the program has completely changed my perspective on what it means to be a part of the New Haven community. . . I’m really there to learn. ”

His on-site work at WHS ranged greatly, from helping teach an enrichment lesson for accelerated students in a second grade class to building desks and chairs in the school’s reading room. His off-site work was similarly robust, with some of his projects including bringing in the Yale Precision Marching Band for a performance on the first day of school and connecting students in the ESL classroom to relevant Yale student groups and language tutors. 

Jaehyun emphasized the privilege of being able to learn in a hands-on environment surrounded by teachers and school administrators. “Anytime I’m on site, it’s a real privilege to have educational professionals who have served New Haven for years be willing to teach me and treat me almost like a colleague. . . working with them in close proximity has exposed me to so much of their wisdom.”

Margaret Mary Gethings, Principal of WHS, served as Jaehyun’s primary contact during his time at the school. In her 32nd year as an educator, Margaret Mary has been involved with the PSIs program for more than 25 of those years, starting with the first-ever class of PSIs. She highlighted the reciprocal nature of the program: “Yale is rich in resources and uniqueness that can only complement our schools, and in turn, we get to share the beauty of our schools, students, and staff with the Yale community.” 

Margaret Mary explained that when she came to WHS four years ago, one of her top two priorities was hiring a PSI, as she knew it would “enhance the teaching, learning, and general community experiences of our school.” Through the work of PSIs like Jaehyun, WHS students have enjoyed performances from Yale acapella groups and Dwight Hall member groups like Yale Children’s Theater, participated in the Ulysses S. Grant Foundation summer academic enrichment program, and even enjoyed meals at Yale dining halls. 

While Jaehyun is still determining his career path, he emphasized how PSIs has expanded and deepened his long-time love of teaching. “This program has made me more informed of what it takes to be an educator, and helped me realize that I need to be aware of a lot more if I pursue a career in education.”

Both Claudia and Jaehyun articulated that one of the most touching aspects of the program is the feeling of having a home outside Yale. “It’s grounding,” noted Claudia, “particularly for students who went to public schools themselves.”

Students interested in applying to Dwight Hall Public School Interns can learn more here.

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