This boarding and day school brings students Americana and world culture

By: Savanna Buckner

Last Upated: May 25, 2021

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With few businesses and only three small eateries, Houghton, New York is easy to underestimate. Yet, for more than 100 students it is a home away from home, and a remarkable one at that.  



Students at Houghton Academy in Western New York will soon start building computers for low-income families. They’ll take recycled and new parts and equipment, put them together, and bring online connectivity to the lives of people who need a helping hand. And they’ll do it from a new “maker space,” which the school will create by restoring a fire hall that hasn’t been occupied or used for more than fifty years.

If that sounds exciting, interesting, and beneficial, it’s all part of Houghton Academy’s goal of serving as an “amazing blend of Americana with world cultures.” 

This Christian school has a rich history. First opened in 1883, today the school works to fuse values-focused, Christian lessons into each of its rigorous courses, while instilling in students the importance of giving back to their communities.

More than 30% of Houghton’s student body is international, with students coming from as far as Korea, China, Vietnam, and Nigeria to attend the Christian academy, which offers both boarding and day school options. 

“We’re not cosmopolitan in our location,” described Houghton’s Head of School, John Nelson, “but we’re somewhat that way as a blend of cultures here in the middle of Western New York.” 

Balancing out the “cosmopolitan” character of the student body is the school’s small size, which makes for a student-teacher ratio of 7:1. 


Sometimes kids can get lost at larger schools, but you hear time and time again from alum that they felt loved and cared for at Houghton,” said Andrew Roorbach, development coordinator at the school. “This was a second home for a lot of them.”

When Roorbach speaks about the school, his words carry the weight of personal and family experience. His father and two aunts were boarding students at the school in the ‘70s. Later, his father moved his family back to the area so Roorbach and his siblings could experience the same strong academics and Judeo-Christian culture at Houghton that he did. 

Houghton Academy hosts a soup kitchen

While teachers have retired or moved, Houghton Academy’s principles have remained the same over the years: “It always goes back to strong academics taught through a Christian worldview,” said Roorbach. 

Roorbach met his wife at Houghton, and they have both remained invested in serving the school and community since they graduated. 

Serving the community is something deeply characteristic of Houghton, where students are encouraged to “walk the walk” of Christianity by putting charity into action. Many students participate in ministries at the local Wesleyan church, such as helping at the Sunday school classes. It’s not unusual to see students shoveling sidewalks for elderly folks in town, engaging in free babysitting for couples with young children, or prepping for a mission trip. 

Houghton Academy students work in the field

The school’s service club is Houghton Academy Impact CREW — Christians Ready, Equipped, & Willing. Last semester CREW hosted a benefit event for Journeys’ End, a Buffalo non-profit that helps refugees, raising over $1,700 for the non-profit. 

And then there’s the computer project, part of an effort to spark economic revitalization in the rural community. Houghton’s students — some of whom come from halfway around the world — plan to use the old American fire hall as a place to build new technology to give to others. What a perfect demonstration of Houghton’s blend of Americana, international culture, and emphasis on service!

Nelson and Roorbach have a word for describing the blend of cultures, unified by the school’s Christian belief, that is found at Houghton: Mosaic. 

“That’s how we see ourselves, as individuals part of a big picture,” said Nelson. “It’s a mosaic of all the people that have been here, and that contributes to the ethos of the school.” 

A mosaic. Christian tradition and academic rigor.  Americana and world culture. It’s an amazing thing that families in the U.S. have options, like Houghton Academy, that bring unique value and energy to their communities. 


Read more: 5 Questions for John Nelson and Andrew Roorbach, Houghton Academy


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