Contagiously vivacious, you’ll find educator David-Aaron Roth somewhere between a College Park classroom, a service project around Atlanta, and Zambia. A former student at the Atlanta Jewish Academy, Roth teaches high school literature at Woodward Academy, participated this summer as a fellow at Columbia University, and segued immediately into leading the Woodward delegation to Zambia.
An engaging Roth was recently featured on a Sunday section cover of the Atlanta Journal Constitution “In their own words…” highlighting Woodward Academy.
“Students who succeed the most in high school understand time management, ownership, and independence. … Students who thrive most often in college are those who are malleable, and willing to take risks.”
Listen in as Roth comments on best practices, student values and Jewish life at Woodward.
Jaffe: What transpired at Columbia?
Roth: I attended the Klingenstein Summer Institute, a two-week fellowship geared toward private school teachers. While part of the experience focused on my work as an English teacher, we also discussed important issues with diversity, equity and inclusion.
Jaffe: Describe your trip to Zambia.
Roth: Annually Woodward takes a delegation of 12 students there to share knowledge, resources and cultural experiences with our sister school, the Terranova School in Mazabuka. Our goal is to help create a sustainable educational opportunity for the students by exploring and identifying what they need rather than going in with the hopes of “American-izing” their education system. Education is the universal equalizer, and we believe that both locally in our school’s pursuits in the Atlanta area and globally in Zambia.
Jaffe: Growing up, did you have the desire to be an educator?
Roth: It wasn’t something I ever set out to do for a career. As I look back at my time as a student at both AJA and Woodward, I felt part of a strong community. At AJA, we all lived in the same neighborhood, where I could walk down the street to hang out with my friends after shul (Beth Tefillah) on Saturdays. At Woodward, students come from different areas, but the school creates a family culture with opportunities for students to engage regularly on campus after school. My goal now is to help students find that same sense of community that I found as a student.
Jaffe: What are some of the works studied in your classroom?
Roth: We recently added “All American Boys” to our ninth-grade curriculum. Woodward is taking great strides to create culturally responsive classrooms allowing students to know that their voice matters. We teach classics like “The Great Gatsby” and infuse books like “Just Mercy,” “Purple Hibiscus,” and “The Things They Carried.” I’m a proponent of teaching civic responsibility and social justice, and many of these novels give students these perspectives in a more contemporary way.
Jaffe: Describe Woodward’s Jewish student life.
Roth: Around 10 percent identify as Jewish. Compared to other local non-denominational, private schools, I believe Woodward to be the most religiously inclusive. Education is a key pillar within the Jewish community. My parents never emphasized education in the “school sense” with the burden to make straight A’s and have a perfect ACT, but they did extol living values of ethical responsibility, leadership and integrity. They instilled the value of having strong character, being a mensch, and giving tzedakah from birth, which have all served me well in my role here as Service Learning Coordinator.
At Woodward, we are creating Jewish programming pre-K through 12. Our Upper School has Yad B’Yad, our Jewish affinity club where Rabbi [Dave] Silverman teaches interested students Torah, holidays and Hebrew. This year, Woodward built its first sukkah, and students could spend their time sitting in there talking, enjoying a meal, and learning about the lulav and etrog.
It is an interesting dichotomy to see the percentage of students who identify as Jewish at Woodward compared to the world at large. At Woodward, being Jewish is more of a “norm.” We recognize Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur with Academy-wide holidays where school is closed, so non-Jewish students learn their importance because of the emphasis Woodward places.
Jaffe: Any thoughts about success in entering college?
Roth: Universities seek “givers and doers” who serve those in need, engage within the community, and understand what is beyond the walls they’ve built up over time. I’ve read numerous college essays, and it is obvious when students take the time to acknowledge the responsibility they have to be “servant” leaders. This understanding illustrates they have a true awareness of the world around them.
Jaffe: Best piece of advice you lead by?
Roth: My mother always told me, “Whatever decision you make, choose the one that will allow you to like the person you see in the mirror each day,” which brilliantly reflects my parent’s style of parenting.
Roth has a Bachelor of Arts from Indiana University and Master of Education in Independent and Charter School Leadership from Mercer University.