The Highland Youth Garden began in February 2009 as two recreation centers closed in the Hilltop community. Caring individuals began working with Highland Elementary School, Hilltop Prime Time, and the J. Ashburn, Jr. Youth Center to plan positive activities for the youth and the idea of a garden program emerged. In the years that followed, and with the commitment of many volunteers of all ages, the Highland Youth Garden grew to become a .40 acre community garden focused on children. The garden offers diverse learning environments for the children it serves. These include raised beds, an herb garden, a native perennial plant area, a learning center (with benches to accommodate a typical classroom), and three large plots for row crops. The HYG serves approximately 300 students from Highland Elementary and the Columbus Bi-Lingual Academy during the school year as well as between 150 and 200 young people each week during the summer. The summer program serves the J. Ashburn, Jr. Community Center, the Shalom Zone's Freedom School, the Columbus Bi-Lingual Academy, and the Dowd Center, as well as neighborhood children. A curriculum developed by one of our master gardeners in conjunction with Franklin County Extension Service and the Highland Elementary School teachers is the basis for learning modules that incorporate the garden and provide the focus of learning in the garden.
Having serviced more than 300 students in 2012, the garden team is committed to expanding the number of students served as well as the quantity and quality of the learning experiences. In a partnership with the local schools and community groups, the garden curriculum is being aligned with state science standards as well as with the STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) priorities of Highland Elementary School. Students will be in the garden weekly for “real world” science lessons and the opportunity to learn more about their environment. Additionally, summer youth activities are being coordinated with the “Freedom Schools” initiative of the Shalom Zone (a community coalition focused on improving lives of local youth), the Columbus Bi-Lingual Academy, the J. Ashburn Community Center, the Dowd Center, the Hilltop United Methodist Church, and the Columbus Recreation and Parks Recreation Centers.