At Houghton Academy in Buffalo, New York, character education plays a key role.
The traditional public school for students in grades PK – 8 frequently invites guest speakers – like local law enforcement officers and judges – to talk to students about the importance of doing the right thing.
But recently, the school’s character education efforts got an unexpected boost when one student, sixth grader Ziarra Griffin, put the lessons she learned at school and at home into practice.
One afternoon in December, Ziarra watched as her school bus hit and dented a parked car after pulling away from the bus stop. When the bus drove off after the accident, other spectators wondered what to do, but Ziarra didn’t skip a beat.
“If you see something, you do something,” she says.
She pulled out a piece of coloring paper from her backpack and wrote a note to the car’s owner, reporting what had happened.
Tocarra Lewis, Ziarra’s mother, described, “When the bus hit the car, I was confused. I didn’t know what to do. My daughter was there and said, ‘Mommy, we need to do the right thing. I’m going to write a note because I think that’s the right thing to do.’”
Ziarra’s note began, “If you’re wondering what happen to your car… Bus 449 hit your car. It stops here everyday to drop me off.” After explaining how the bus had left a dent while trying to squeeze through cars, Ziarra even added a sketch of the bus!
Since she signed the note as an anonymous sixth-grader at Houghton Academy, the matter might have ended there.
But, when the car’s owner tweeted a shout-out to the anonymous helper with a picture of the note, his post went viral, garnering 1.2 million likes and more than 4,000 comments.
The note was tracked back to Ziarra, who became a local celebrity.
“A lot of people within the community were so proud of her,” said Houghton Academy’s principal, Elaine Vandi-Kirkland. “A lot of adults don’t even do the right thing like that, so when a child does, it must be that somebody is doing something right somewhere.”
Ziarra said she learned the value of character at home and at school, and that the incident helped her better realize that, “you’re not being a snitch if somebody’s doing the wrong thing.”
One of her favorite parts of going to Houghton Academy is the example her principal sets. “She’s nice and when she sees someone doing the wrong thing, she’s not going to just snitch,” Ziarra said. “She’s going to tell them that it’s the wrong thing to do, and she’s going to explain to them why.”
“We have high expectations for all our students,” Vandi-Kirkland said. “It’s essential if we want to have a civil, safe environment. We also know it is very essential for life skills. That’s something that we constantly, day in and day out, reinforce to our students.”
One way the school reinforces this is through its speaker program, which welcomes various professionals to Houghton Academy to share with students how character is important for every job.
As for what Ziarra hopes to do when she grows up, the sixth-grader has a whole list of ideas… “an artist, a scientist, an actress, a creator, a chef, a game designer…”
Ziarra may have many options for her career, but she’s already shown she’s capable of making a good choice with conviction. Her simple act of telling the truth is an inspiring reminder of the hope we can have for the next generation.