Meet Our Middle School Leaders
Blair Henderson ’26 Starts a Middle School Affinity Group
When Blair Henderson ’26 came to Cannon in the fall of 2019, she knew early on that she would love to create a space where students of color could gather and share. With the help of Middle School Teacher Mrs. Stephanie Ranson, Blair did just that—and has been leading the group, even virtually, ever since.
Q: I understand that you were new to Cannon last year. When you came here, why did you think it was important to create an affinity group?
A: It was important to me because at my old school, it was a space for students of color to come and feel a sense of community and belonging. I was new, so I thought that was a great way for me to make new friends and have a group of people to support me.
Q: Walk us through the process of getting the group started.
A: It just started out with me talking to Mrs. Ranson about my old school and how we did things differently there. I told her about my affinity group and asked if we had one. She said “No, but we can start one.” At first, I was a little scared because I was new, so I did not know what to expect.
Q: What does a typical meeting look like?
A: This year, it has been a little harder to get together on Zoom during COVID, so usually on a Friday we will get together during our lunch break and the group leaders will have a topic for us to talk about. The space is very inviting, and we usually share stories and talk through stuff. It’s been a challenge this year because we all have different schedules and sometimes it is hard to coordinate a time.
Q: What have been the rewards of starting a group like this one?
A: Some rewards are my friendship with the people in the group. We have created such a close bond; I think because we all have something in common to relate to.
Q: What else do you hope to accomplish with an initiative like this?
A: A bond with other people so we can have a sense of community.
Nick Cherry ’27 Goes Out on a Limb with his Wood Chopping Business
Nick Cherry ’27 Goes Out on a Limb with his Wood Chopping Business
Lumberjack isn’t necessarily a moniker often heard in association with our students—but you could use it to describe Nick Cherry ’27! Nick has his own wood-chopping business, and what started as a small business has grown “tree-mendously” over the years.
Q: How did you get started with your wood-chopping business?
A: My wood chopping business, Big Nick’s Wood Shack, started when I was eight years old. I chop and sell wood from our farm and we deliver truckloads of wood (about 2/3 of a cord). The business started one day when my dad came in and said to research firewood and how to split it. I have been chopping wood for about six years, but only selling it for about four.
Q: Your family also owns the Treesort, a private farm with rentable treehouses. Do you sell wood to people renting there? What about other folks?
A: We sell to anyone who wants good quality wood. We deliver to anyone who is no more than 3 hours away. I split wood about once or twice a week and we deliver about 3 times a week.
Q: What has this business taught you in regard to hard work and making customers happy?
A: My business has definitely taught me the importance of work ethic and to make sure my wood is dry for the customer. I give my dad a bunch of credit for this because he has taught me all I know. It has also taught me that I need to work hard and always make sure that I am on top of things.
Q: You recently hosted a Winterfest at the Treesort, which included a Young Entrepreneur’s Fair. Can you share a bit about that experience?
A: My dad and I had been to a mini entrepreneur fair at someone’s house, and we thought, “We can do that.” We thought tying it into Winterfest (a weekend in which the community was invited to tour the treehouses on property) was a good idea. We advertised on Facebook and Instagram, and it just started going from there. We had about fifty kids who came out to sell their stuff, and it was awesome to see.
Q: What has your business taught you about leadership?
A: My dad has taught me a lot, and I’ve learned that if you want to be your own boss and be successful, you really have to work.
Q: What is advice you would give other young entrepreneurs?
A: There are a lot of times when I don’t want to go and chop wood. My advice is, sometimes you don’t want to do something, but don’t quit. Keep on going, even when you’re tired. Eventually it will work out.
How Deven Dighe ’22 and Chase Hensley ’23 are Leading the Next Generation of Brainy Yaks
When Chase Hensley ’23 was selected as a Brainy Yak in the fifth grade, he was tasked with a less than glamorous job. The Yaks were creating a sound diffuser made of K-Cups, and Chase’s job…was to dumpster dive for the coffee filters so the group had enough to create the project.
According to Brainy Yaks advisor Mr. Leigh Northrup, Deven and Chase were natural choices to stay on with the program after they graduated Middle School. “They were both all-stars during their time in Yaks,” he said.
Deven and Chase worked with the Yaks by helping them program robots and create an innovation project each year. Deven mentored the Brainy Yaks during their run for a world championship back in 2019, when they spent close to a year researching how to prevent circadian rhythm disruptions in astronauts on the International Space Station. The work the Yaks presented at regional and state competitions, as well as points earned for building and executing a robot run, earned them a spot on the international stage.
Deven joined the Yaks for the worlds event in West Virginia. “At the last minute, their code stopped working and so I had to help them work it out,” he said. When asked if that was stressful, Deven’s nonchalant response? “The stress is fun.”
“It’s rewarding to watch these kids grow up, knowing they are getting prepared to go on to Upper School robotics,” he said.
Chase says he has enjoyed mentoring the younger kids because they had become friends during their time on the team together. He also learned a lesson heralded by teachers everywhere.
“Middle Schoolers are hard to teach,” he said. “They can be really silly.” (Editor’s Note – Chase stated he has decided he could never be a Middle School teacher.)
“It can be crazy and fun, but in order for them to learn something, they need to be focused and you can walk alongside them,” Chase said.
Mr. Northrup sings the boys praises and feels their leadership has contributed greatly to the team’s growth. “They are not just supporting younger students but teaching those same students how to be amazing leaders and mentors themselves,” Mr. Northrup said.
“Deven and Chase have set a new bar for how to support Cannon School programs and what mentorship means in our community.”
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