5 Questions for Sixth-grader Ziarra Griffin and Principal Elaine Vandi-Kirkland, Houghton Academy

By: Andrew Campanella

Last Upated: April 15, 2021


Houghton Academy in Buffalo, NY seeks to build a culture of character, and sixth-grader Ziarra Griffin went viral last year for her good deed. Andrew Campanella spoke with Ziarra and Principal Elaine Vandi-Kirkland about Houghton’s school culture.  


Read: HIGHLIGHTING HAPPINESS: One truth and a bus: How a sixth-grader’s decision to speak up went viral


Andrew Campanella: Ziarra, you’ve been featured in the local news for a note you left after you saw a school bus dent a car then drive away. Where did you learn how to do the right thing by leaving a note for the car owner?

Ziarra Griffin: From my heart, my home, and my school. When Ms. Vandi, our principal, sees someone doing the wrong thing, she’s not going to just snitch. She’s going to tell them that it’s the wrong thing to do, and she’s going to explain to them why.

Andrew: What do you like learning most in school, and do you feel like you’re learning good stuff to get you ready for a job?

Ziarra: Social studies and ELA and science. Yes, there’s a group called “A Person of Character” and you get to choose what to learn about. It teaches you about careers and what you want to be when you grow up.

Andrew: Ms. Vandi-Kirkland, how does Houghton Academy help students learn about the importance of character?

Elaine Vandi-Kirkland: We have a speaker series where professionals come visit our students and talk about character and various careers and what students need to do to get where they want to go. In fact, we just had a judge come in to speak to our students. She’s one of the youngest judges here in Buffalo, New York— Judge Pridgen. She spoke to the students about what she does and how important it is that they be respectful, display good character, and be good citizens so she see them in her court!

Andrew: How was your National School Choice Week celebration this year?

Elaine: Oh, it was fantastic. The students and the community, everyone here had a wonderful time. What they really loved about it is was actually having a chance to celebrate our school, Houghton Academy, School 69. It’s a wonderful group of people and we have a good time here at Houghton Academy because the expectations are very high.

Andrew: What sort of activities did you have?

Elaine: The students had an assembly. Every home room had to develop their own cheer and they had an opportunity to cheer during the assembly and everyone recognized what they did and cheered them on. We had speakers here. We had the class banner. We even had students vs. teachers trivia questions, so that was a lot of fun. We had a door-decorating contest about why we love our school and why we chose Houghton Academy. And we had Red Day— our school colors are red and white— so we had that going on. The kids really, really enjoyed those yellow scarves!

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