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NewsHour Features Takoma Academy Student’s Fire Demonstration

Rarely does anyone get a chance to be spotlighted on PBS’s NewsHour, one of the nation’s most prestigious news programs. Rarer still is being featured in a positive light. Takoma Academy (TA) junior Erin Stewartson recently achieved both feats.

Story by Ron Mills

Last semester Stewartson participated in a University of Maryland Department of Fire Protection Engineering after-school program that was featured on the show. In class Isaac Leventon, a University of Maryland doctoral candidate, uses Christmas tree burns to teach high school students about fire safety and the relevance of science and math. In the class, the sophomores and juniors gathered data from each burn and compared the heat release rates to determine which fire is more powerful. The program works toward the goal of using fire to generate and grow interest in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics).

A recent fire, started by an Annapolis family’s Christmas tree igniting, killed six people and highlighted the importance of the topic studied in the class. NewsHour featured the important topic and the class’s finale, a controlled burn of three Christmas trees. During the final segment of the story, Stewartson explained fire tornadoes: “A fire tornado is basically a normal fire plume, which is just something lit on fire, and then, when an enclosure goes over it, which is like a rectangular enclosure, it creates an angular momentum, which makes the fire spin into a tornado in the form of a whirl. And, they actually do exactly what tornadoes do. They pick up people and take trees out of place,” she shared. Other students were featured in the broadcast, but the film crew mainly focused on Stewartson’s demonstrations and comments.

Being able to see and create a fire tornado was one of the reasons Stewartson found the program exciting and worth the extra time, on top of her rigorous schedule at TA. Stewartson faithfully attended the after-school program for several weeks and found it extremely beneficial for intellectual and practical growth. “To do this for free … even if you don’t get [academic] credit, it’s still very good knowledge you can use,” she adds.

Stewartson shows the same type of enthusiasm in her day-to-day schoolwork. “Erin is a highly motivated student and does not hesitate to ask questions if she needs help,” says David Hooker, physics teacher. “She is constantly working to expand her skills to enter her chosen profession of engineering. She participated last summer in a program held in Baltimore called Future Engineers in Dynamics System, and that program motivated her to take physics her junior year in high school instead of waiting until her senior year. The future bodes very bright for Erin Stewartson.”


Watch the NewsHour story.

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