New Haven LEAP’s Outdoor Corps Brings Science to Life for Urban Youth

written by serena ly ’20

three young boys doing on hands on activity outdoorsCurious eyes move left and right, as LEAP children, affectionately called “LEAPers” by the greater New Haven Community, step foot into the Yale Peabody Museum’s Great Hall of Dinosaurs. Overtaken by bouts of youthful awe, their excitement is evident, as tens of fingers point towards the giant fossils around them and a cascade of footsteps breathes life into a room of lifeless exhibits. Their bright smiles capture both the joy of museums like the Peabody and the power of scientific discovery.

two young girls hold up clear overhead sheets with their drawings using Expo markersThese discoveries are made possible by the Outdoor Corps program, the product of a partnership between New Haven Leadership, Education, and Athletics in Partnership (LEAP) and the Yale Peabody Museum to address the concern that children in New Haven – in particular low-income children and children of color - have limited opportunities to enjoy and learn about the natural world. Through the Outdoor Corps program, LEAP works to get children out of the classroom and into museums, state parks, and campsites, where they can observe and practice science in nature. As rises in sea levels continue to accelerate at alarming rates, the program’s implementation comes at a time when Earth stewardship and environmental education of the youth in our communities have never been so important.a group of counselors and students walking into the woods with backpacks

The Outdoor Corps program spans four weeks in July and provides educational enrichment through experiential modules to three of LEAP’s five neighborhood sites – Fairhaven South, Dwight-Kensington, and Dixwell. The program has grown from last year, which saw two LEAP sites – Fairhaven North and Hillside South (formerly known as Church Street South) - benefit from the program’s pilot year.

a young boy sitting outside with a huge smile holding a stick in front of his soda bottle plantPeabody Public Education Coordinator Jim Sirch, who coordinates Outdoor Corps on behalf of the Peabody Museum, explains, “These students are going to be adults and making decisions about their world. Our planet is changing. Now is the time to get outside and excited about nature. If you get that love about being outdoors, it’s with you always and helps you make informed decisions about the environment later.”

In the first part of the program, under the guidance of Sirch, Peabody Sci.CORPS counselors teach modules including items like plate tectonics, ecological succession, pollution, and rocks and minerals at each site, followed by day trips to the Peabody and local parks. The counselors emphasize how each topic that has been discussed has affected and continues to affect the state of Connecticut. Despite the difficulty of these scientific topics, LEAPers retain the information presented to them and eagerly apply concepts to their natural environments. counselors working with students

Sci.CORPS counselor Elijah remarks “They end up incorporating [concepts] into their daily lives. The other day, we were building a mini national forest, and the kids actually made a watershed. As a group of LEAPers approach him in a fit of giggles, Elijah adds with a smile, “They are connecting it to their lives, and it’s great.”

The final part of the program sees LEAPers explore pond life and native organisms, compare soil composition, and become adventurous orienteers with newly acquired compass skills at the Calabresi Family Farm in nearby Woodbridge, generously donated for use by LEAPers by co-founder and long-time supporter Anne Calabresi. The program culminates in an overnight camping trip at the Calabresi Farm, where LEAPers enjoy swimming, star gazing, and a fun-filled talent show.

two youn girls watching an older man demonstrating soda bottle water plant systemsOn growing the program and receiving greater community support, Sirch says, “We hope to expand to all five [sites] next year. I think that the 9- and 10- year old group is a great age group to really get excited about getting outside.” Sirch’s words can’t be echoed enough, as LEAPers exude passion and enthusiasm for science and the outdoors on each of their day trips. Their talent and excitement is undeniable.

When asked what they want to be when they grow up, LEAPers are quick to share their aspirations.

“I want to be a pediatrician!” exclaims one girl. a group of young girls leaning over a table and listening intently their counselors

“I want to study rocks in Brazil,” explains another boy.

“I want to be an inventor,” states a 9-year old from Fairhaven South, with a look of inspired determination.

Through Outdoor Corps, LEAP hopes to make these dreams happen and inspire generations of scientists, naturalists, and active outdoors enthusiasts to help improve our world.

Serena Ly ‘20 is a President’s Public Service Fellow at LEAP and was a participant in our First-Year in Service Program, which she will be the coordinator for during the 2017-2018 academic year.

LEAP is a nationally-recognized child development program that serves some 1,000 youth from five high-poverty neighborhoods in New Haven through after-school and summer programs that provide academic support, interpersonal skill-building, and enrichment activities such as the arts, swimming, and camping. LEAP trains New Haven high school and college students to be counselors for the children in these programs, providing opportunities for leadership, community development, and youth employment.

The Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History is a world-renowned research institution with a collection of more than 13 million objects. The Museum offers an afterschool science education and college/career preparatory program for high school students from New Haven and West Haven, EVOLUTIONS. Participants can also join Sci.CORPS, the Science Career Orientation and Readiness Program for Students, from which students transition from volunteer to paid positions. 

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