DC school celebrates Pi Day the way it’s intended

Over the years, restaurants and bakeries have had fun with Pi Day, offering specials on pizza pies, dessert pies and any other kinds of pies you can imagine.

But Pi Day falls on March 14 because it’s 3/14 on your calendar, and the number known as Pi is 3.14 — and so on, forever.

Being that it’s really a day for math and STEM-type people, it meant they had to celebrate it at Excel Academy in Southeast D.C. It’s the District’s only all-girls public school that also focuses on STEM. Actually, make that STEAM.

“Not only is it science and technology, but also engineering, arts and mathematics,” said Shaunte Daniel, principal at Excel. “At minimum, two days a week, we ensure they have something that’s physical to them so that they can put all that they are learning into application.”

For a middle school class, it meant bringing in D.C. Schools Chancellor Lewis Ferebee and state superintendent of education Christina Grant into the classroom to make s’mores — by cooking them in their own solar ovens that they built.

It was part of a lesson the teacher was using to demonstrate the difference between potential energy and kinetic energy. With a bit of aluminum foil, some saran wrap and a small pizza box, the chocolate and oversized marshmallow were quickly melting underneath some lamps.

“I can feel that,” referring to the heat, said both Ferebee and Grant as the s’mores were cooking.

Before they walked into that classroom, they also got a peek at some pre-schoolers doing a few different experiments. For a few minutes, the very tall Ferebee sat in some very smalls chairs with some four-years-olds as they experimented with dried-out markers that were used to color liquids.

He also took part in some buoyancy lessons as the kids took turns trying to figure out what would float right, and what would lean over and take on water. At another table, kids were learning about worms, dirt and compost.

“I’m trying not to panic,” joked Daniel, as worms crawled around her hand.

“It is not just pizza and dessert,” she later said about Pi Day. “It is experiment, it is application, it is hands-on, it is vocabulary, it is writing, it is reading and it is speaking.”

“We want them to dream big,” said Ferebee. “We want them to think about what it takes to be an engineer … what it takes to be a mathematician and take those experiences from the classroom here and apply them in areas they have interest in.”

The idea that STEM fields are supposed to be for males isn’t flying in this school.

“We’re going to kill that narrative in any way possible,” said Daniel. “And any influence we can have, any exposure that we can have, any opportunity, any experiment that we can have that they can be a part of that teaches them anything we want to expose them to.”

John Domen

John started working at WTOP in 2016 after having grown up in Maryland listening to the station as a child. While he got his on-air start at small stations in Pennsylvania and Delaware, he's spent most of his career in the D.C. area, having been heard on several local stations before coming to WTOP.

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