top of page

Sam Hughes Ecology:
Tax credit dollars at work!

Gardening: ​

Garden areas:  We have 2 vegetable gardens at our school. All students help prepare the soil, plant, harvest and eat directly from our school gardens.  Students learn about healthy eating and sample a variety of vegetables each year.  Peas, carrots, broccoli, turnips, tomatoes are some of the students’ favorites.  You can say we run a “garden to mouth” program because often it never even reaches the table. 

Science, writing and math are also incorporated into garden time. 


  • 2nd graders have plant carrots close together and far apart.  They measure and weigh the harvest in these 2 treatments to see how spacing effects growth.  

  • Kindergarteners compare the structures on sowbugs and earthworms found in the worm composting bins

Herb garden:  students love picking tastes of mint, rosemary, basil and green onion tops 

Green smoothies: With the addition of a high-powered blender to our garden program, a new favorite tradition has become the green smoothies we blend up with spinach or chard growing in our gardens.

Students also plant flowers--hollyhocks, nasturtiums, calendula and sunflowers are school favorites

Fruit trees: Historic grapefruit and lemon trees in the courtyard.  “Nana” who volunteers with 4th graders and the school plays, remembers planting these trees in 19?  Every student takes part in the harvest and eats slices of grapefruit and/or drinks grapefruit drink—right out of the rind, a Sam Hughes tradition!

Pomegranate harvest –enough for one grade level each year

Seed harvesting: Harvest pea, basil, calendula, and sunflower seeds for planting the following year.


Parent and Grandparent volunteers:  Our parent and grandparent volunteers are a big part of what makes the gardening and ecology program a success at our school.  Family help with student planting and harvesting and school workdays helps to keep our program running! 



Ecology lessons are both indoors and outdoors and based on Arizona State Science Standards, specific to each grade level. 

Indoor lessons: Students do research and “labs” and learn about ecological and life science concepts.  Students learn to use evidence to support their claims.

Outdoor lessons: Students make observations, collect data, and learn to use a key to identify plants. 



Kindergarteners are collecting data on tree leaves at our school and the presence/absence of lizards, tortoises and swallows throughout the year. They are learning about how weather affects living things.

  • 1st graders collect data on where we find animals in our courtyard. They also make “nests” and adobe bricks of natural materials.

  • 2nd graders look for insects in the habitat areas to see where they are getting their energy (nectar, pollen, seeds, leaves?)

  • 3rd graders collect flowers from our habitat areas and use microscopes to look at flower parts, when learning about pollination and collect seeds to look at under the microscopes when learning about seed dispersal mechanisms

  • 3rd-5th graders use binoculars to identify birds in our habitat areas, study their behaviors, eating patterns, nesting sites etc.


Habitat areas we maintain:

Desert Garden (2013) and the Tortoise Habitat (2014) and Courtyard bird/lizard habitat (2016) 

Notes from the year

Mr. Rodarte's class started off our bird watching season in March 2023. They saw 6 different species including two of the showiest birds that live here at the school, the Vermillion Flycatcher and the Broad-billed Hummingbird.


Vermillion Flycatcher: We like to call the Vermillion Flycatcher our 2nd school mascot! We saw it on the fence by the garden and on the southeast side of the playground. We also saw a Says Phoebe in this area. Do they compete for territory?


Broad-billed Hummingbird: We watched the hummingbird getting nectar from the wolfberry flowers in our courtyard habitat area. The plants that 4th graders selected and planted in 2016 are feeding the birds of 2023!

About the ecology teacher:

Ms. Graber has 13 years of experience as an elementary classroom teacher.  (Tucson, Ecuador, Costa Rica and on the Hopi Reservation).  She also has a degree in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology from the U of A. She began her time at Sam Hughes as a parent volunteer in 2012.  She loves gardening and learning about the natural world with students.

Ms. Graber and a student look for a vermillion flycatcher during ecology class
Students look for birds during ecology at Sam Hughes Elementary
Sam Hughes student watering flowers in ecology class
Ms. Graber pouring grapefruit juice for a student, harvested from the school orchard
Student using binoculars to bird watch at Sam Hughes Elementary
bottom of page