5 Questions for John Nelson and Andrew Roorbach, Houghton Academy

By: Andrew Campanella

Last Upated: April 15, 2021

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In the little hamlet of Houghton, New York, students from around the world are learning to think deeply, serve generously, and love learning. 


Read more: This boarding and day school brings students Americana and world culture


Andrew Campanella: What makes Houghton Academy unique? 

John Nelson, head of school: We are an amazing blend of Americana in a very rural location. That’s what makes it unique. Sometimes people say we’re in the middle of everywhere because of that, but it’s hard to prove that until someone gets here. What I wish people knew was that we are a very interesting intersection of life for students in high school. Also, I don’t want to minimize the fact that we’re a Christian school. That is the most important thing to me and to us here.

Andrew: Tell me more about the approach that you take to academics. Do you emphasize Christian values in specific subjects or weave it into everything?  

John: The intent is to weave it into everything. That is one of the blessings for those families who do come from a background of Christian walk here.

As one thinker said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” That’s what education is for, it is to help us to examine our lives. The first thing we say [to students] is, “Live authentically.”

Without that lens of authenticity that gives us perspective, we’re going to be run-of-the-mill people and a run-of-the-mill school. This school is made up of its main parts, so our focus is on [students and staff] being reflective and not just living a ho-hum daily life. There’s an intentionality and authenticity. It involves ethics. It involves living by a moral code. It also involves not trusting in ourselves. That’s why we’re a Christian school. We believe that Christ is the answer and the most well-rounded education offered has always had a Christian faith concept at its core.

Andrew: What are some of the reasons families choose Houghton?

Andrew Roorbach, development coordinator: One of the main reasons families choose us is the Christian education aspect of this school. We don’t shy away from that in any of our communication. We don’t hide or downplay that we are a Christian school, and that’s something that we value greatly. We teach in a way that is absolutely college preparatory. Our academics are strong, but we want to present what we teach through a Christian perspective. That’s a very important part of our school and why a lot of families choose Houghton. The small aspect does help. Students aren’t lost or forgotten. They get the attention that they need here. They’re cared for.

Andrew: Why do you think school choice is important for families and also for our country?

 John: I would go back to human nature. From childhood onward, human beings like a little bit of autonomy. I think what our school offers this country, as well as to the world (30-40% of our students are international students) is a taste of responsible freedom. I think there’s a responsibility that goes with choice. If it’s pure choice without responsibility, that isn’t good. It isn’t good for the individual to get his or her own way all the time, and it isn’t good for the country to think that we don’t have to consider the rest of the world as well as our interests. There’s a balance needed, and in school choice, there is an energy that comes out of choice. There’s a great majority of our families who allow their children to have a voice in their choice, in the choice of the family. Students who have had a choice and have chosen to come here because of their desire that’s what makes Houghton Academy a place of joy.

Andrew: How do you celebrate National School Choice Week?

 Andrew R: The last couple of years I’ve been gathering testimonies from parents, teachers, students, and alumni, about their experience here at the Academy to get a broad view of everybody’s experience. It is parents talking about why they chose the school, or a current student about how they feel about the school, or alums talking about their experience. I also think it’s important to highlight the teachers because the teachers as well as the parents are choosing to be here because they believe in Christian education. It’s important to share why they want to teach here and why they enjoy teaching here. Our celebration has primarily been an online one on the school’s Facebook and Instagram page, and it’s been sharing those stories about what people have enjoyed about their experience at Houghton Academy. 



Andrew Campanella is President of National School Choice Week. 


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