School Programs

As a public health precaution due to the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic, the SMNHC is not currently offering any on-site or in-person programming.  Our closure is part of the larger effort by NM state government and public school officials to minimize exposure to the virus.  

We are teaching a Virtual Field Experience program to APS 5th graders during the 2020-21 school year.  
If you are an APS teacher, you should have received scheduling information from Jenna Chavez. You can reach her at with questions.

If you are a teacher at a Rio Rancho Public School, any other school in New Mexico, or a homeschool group, please contact Vanessa Barela at to request a Virtual Field Experience for your students.

Virtual Field Experience

The VFE is a special new program being offered during the 2020 Covid-19 Pandemic, taught online in Google Meet, with outdoor components outside students' homes. It covers the majority of the same standards and concepts as our Ecology Field Program, beginning with our introduction to the abiotic and biotic parts, including producers, consumers, and decomposers, that encompass an ecosystem, and the connections between these components.

Before the program, students are expected to watch a video and do an activity about Abiotic/Biotic parts of the ecosystem. 

During the program, our instructors discuss the ecosystem nearby and in the Sandia Mountains. They share and discuss natural objects (skulls, scat, plant parts, lichen, etc.), scientific research tools, wildlife camera photos, scientific graphs/data, videos, and more with the students. 

Students venture outside their homes to do 2-3 activities (alternative options are provided for students unable to access an outdoor space). Potential activity topics include consumers and their evidence, producer characteristics, habitats, weather observations, soil classification, rocks, simple scientific research, drawing, and journaling.   

Specific content during a particular program is up to each instructor, student interests, and teacher requests.

Post-program, additional resources including pre-recorded videos, activities, and a virtual hike are provided for classes to extend their ecosystem unit.

This program is 2 hours long, with the option to extend up to 2.5 hours. Offered Monday-Friday during the 2020 school year. 

All APS 5th grade classes are automatically included in the program and have a set date arranged for you already (as with our Ecology Field Program). 
For non-APS schools (in the Albuquerque area and statewide), as well as homeschool and out-of-school groups, please contact us to schedule. We will do our best to accommodate as many classes/groups as we are able.

Ecology Field Program

The main program of the SMNHC, the Ecology Field Program (EFP), teaches every 5th grade class in Albuquerque Public Schools (APS) and Rio Rancho Public Schools  (RRPS), as well as other schools in and around Albuquerque. 

Using the outdoors, this program teaches students about the inter-connectedness of the biotic and abiotic parts of an ecosystem with a hands-on scientific approach.

The program typically lasts 4-4.5 hours and consists of:
• 1/2-hour Ecosystem Introduction/Review
• 2-3 hour Hike with Lessons & Activities On-Trail 
• 1/2 hour Lunch Break
• Time permitting, an additional Hands-On Activity

Students are introduced to the local ecosystem, and the producers, consumers, and decomposers that reside here, through a day of field exploration, careful observation, and hands-on learning in the outdoors.  Students learn how real scientists study the natural world and have the chance to try out the methods and tools they use for themselves.  

A day here encompasses a wide range of topics, potentially including but certainly not limited to: habitats, tree and plant identification, consumer evidence (skulls/tracks/scat, etc.), the food web, fire ecology, water and nutrient cycling, decomposition, scientific quadrats, wildlife motion-sensor cameras, weather instrumentation, increment borers, fuel moisture sampling, insects, natural springs, bird watching, parasites,  fossil hunt, and all kinds of ecological scavenger hunts.

Our instructors draw from their own knowledge, a particular day's trail route, and, most importantly, the interests, questions, and abilities of that day's class to craft a unique and most engaging program for everyone who visits.

The program is free of charge for APS schools, including transportation.  Those schools not part of APS also receive the program for free but will have to cover their own transportation costs to our site.

This program is offered throughout the school year, with the exception of mid-December thru late February.

All lessons and activities are aligned with the New Mexico State Science Standards, Next Generation Science Standards and the Common Core State Standards for 5th graders. 

Experience what a day in our program is like in photos:

Becoming Citizens of Our Land: A Photo Essay

To schedule an ecology field program...

APS teachers contact:

Jenna Chavez

Non-APS teachers contact:

Vanessa Barela

or call (505) 281-5259

Student quotes..

Traveling Ecology Field Program

For schools outside the Albuquerque area, we offer the Traveling Ecology Field Program (TEFP) statewide.  In this exciting program, the State-employed staff of the SMNHC meet your students at a natural area near your school and lead students on a program covering all the same themes as the regular Ecology Field program, but focused on their local ecosystem. 

Outdoor teaching areas require hiking trails with sufficient length and route options (the more classes at once, the more we need different areas to split them off to), restroom facilities, school bus access, and a parking area. Areas that have been used for the TEFP include State Parks, National Park Service sites, National Forest areas, BLM land, city parks and even natural areas within walking distance of the school.

Contact us to find out where we can teach near you!

To schedule a Traveling EFP or with questions about the Kids 'n Parks grant:

Vanessa Barela

(505) 281-5259

Kids 'n Parks Grant

Click the link in the heading for information about this grant, which provides transportation costs to classes that visit state parks in New Mexico for educational field trips such as our Traveling Ecology Field Program. Contact Vanessa Barela with questions.

Student Outreach Quotes

Whitfield Wildlife Conservation Area

For schools in the Los Lunas/Belen area, we teach our Ecology Field Program at Whitfield Wildlife Conservation Area in Belen (  It covers all the main concepts as the EFP and utilizes a number of hands-on activities designed specifically for Whitfield.  Students are led on a flat hike through the bosque ecosystem, learning about and closely observing cottonwood trees, a pond and water channel, sandhill cranes and many other bird species, native and non-native plant species, ample consumer evidence, and ecosystem restoration projects. 

The program typically lasts 3 to 3.5 hours, including a 1/2 hr. lunch.

This program runs January and February each year.

To schedule a trip to WWCA, contact:
Allison Martin
(505) 864-8914

New Mexico counties served in 2015-'16 school year:

Animal Investigations Program

We bring this interactive program to your 2nd grade classroom.  Our instructors present a 1-hour lesson about local animals and their physical characteristics. Students visit 5 hands-on stations with animal "evidence" (skulls, tracks, fur/feathers) while recording their observations in a journal and investigating what animal they come from. 

Program includes scientific inquiry and close observation, working in groups, understanding and comparing animal characteristics, animal diets, and local biodiversity. 

To schedule, contact:

Fiana Shapiro

(505) 281-5259

Quotes from teachers about Animal Investigations:

"The students enjoyed the presentation and cannot stop talking about the animal artifacts. Your staff was wonderful and deserve a big pat on the back."

"Thank you all for coming to our school. Presentation was fantastic . This is our 2nd year, and we're equally impressed!"

"I just wanted to thank you for a wonderful presentation that my second graders really enjoyed. They were very engaged in the presentation start to finish. The presenters did an amazing job! They were organized and gave very clear instructions and information."