COLUMBUS - A passion for learning, developing life skills, and giving to others has become contagious at the Highland Elementary. Hilary Rieck, a 3rd grade teacher at Highland, wants her students to do more than excel in the classroom; she wants them to excel at life. She works to create educational opportunities that not only help her students learn, but also develop life skills such as food preparation, gardening, and nutrition.

Rieck hopes that the knowledge and skills gained can help the students throughout their lives with the ability to provide for themselves and their families.

Throughout the past year, her passion has become evident to community members due to the Growing Health Futures Garden located in front of Highland Elementary.

“I just want to give my students experiences and opportunities they may not have otherwise,” Rieck said.

She stated that she wants kids to learn where there food comes from, enjoy the outdoors, and have opportunities to try new foods that they grow themselves. The garden was a success producing watermelon, corn, popcorn, tomatoes, peppers, potatoes, squash, and pumpkins.

The learning did not end with the planting and upkeep of the garden. Produce was given to the local summer free lunch program, students took produce home to their families, fall decorations were given to local businesses, and healthy snacks were provided to youth throughout the school. The project had outcomes far beyond the produce in the garden. Students developed lifelong skills and identified their ability to make an impact throughout their community. As a result of her commitment and dedication to her students and the city Columbus, the Health and Wellness Advocates of Cherokee County would like to recognize Hilary Rieck as a Health Champion for Cherokee County.

Numerous companies, social groups, and individuals throughout the county have identified making wellness a priority for their employees, youth, and peers. Healthier lifestyles leads to long-term benefits including improved health, increased productivity, and enhanced quality of life. The Health and Wellness Advocates of Cherokee County need your help in highlighting the organizations throughout the county that are making health and wellness a priority. Please nominate a Cherokee County Health Champion by emailing or calling Christina Holmes at or 620-429-3849.

Kansas State University is committed to making its services, activities and programs accessible to all participants. If you have special requirements due to a physical, vision, or hearing disability, contact Christina Holmes, Cherokee County Extension, 124 W. Country Rd, Columbus, KS 66725, phone 620-429-3849 or email