Grantsburg Middle School student Amaya Henderson displays school pride with her Pirate Nation decals.

GRANTSBURG—Sixth-grader Amaya Henderson of Grantsburg learned she was nominated to attend the National Youth Leadership Forum’s(NYLF) Explore STEM experience when she received a letter in the mail from Washington, DC in February of this year. Nominated by Grantsburg Middle School teacher Kim Hallberg, Amaya was selected based on her interest in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).

Since receiving her notification Amaya, 12, has been steadily working at raising money toward tuition. Part of this fundraising venture was the design and marketing of window decals that provides Amaya an opportunity to share how she feels about her school.

Future paleontologist

The eldest daughter of Cassie and D.J. Henderson of Grantsburg, Amaya presents as a shy, quiet girl. But as they say, still waters run deep.

“Amaya has a beautiful heart and a truly brilliant mind and to know Amaya is to love her,” says Cassie. “I am truly her biggest fan.”

Academically gifted, Amaya loves to learn, has an astounding memory, and has high scores on both report cards and MAPS test scores. She hopes to be a paleontologist, a dream rooted in her deep and long-lasting love of dinosaurs.

Amaya also works hard in areas that don’t come as easy. This year, she went out for cross country, trying something that didn’t come naturally to her. She loved her season as a Grantsburg Pirate runner and did well; placing in the top five runners for Grantsburg Middle School most of her meets. Amaya shared that she also plays clarinet in the middle school band, has two younger sisters and a dog named Eve.

To understand how extraordinary Amaya and this opportunity are, it is crucial to know a little about her history. Amaya has Asperger’s Syndrome, a form of high functioning Autism. This presented her with challenges such as struggling with fine motor skills and having an aversion to anything with texture. Her parents enrolled her in Grantsburg’s Special Education program at the age of two and a half, at a time when Amaya still didn’t speak. Through the help of occupational, physical, and speech therapies she blossomed into the successful young lady she is today.

STEM camp

The Explore STEM program is sponsored by Envision and aims to develop critical thinkers, increase technical literacy, and enable the next generation of innovators. Envision also coaches students in charting their pathways to future success through discussions on high school courses and university selection.

This year’s theme is a Mission to Mars, where participants will create solutions and overcome challenges associated with colonizing Mars. Subjects include engineering and robotics, medicine and healthcare, civil engineering, and forensic science.

Of the 10 locations offered, Amaya will be attending Explore STEM at Loyola University in Chicago and will be there for five days in mid- July. It’s also a bit of a birthday present, as she turns 13 just before going to camp.


Amaya is working toward collecting $3,000.00 for tuition costs. She began at the end of February by drafting and mailing out solicitation letters to area industries who are heavily involved in STEM topics. To date, she has received donations from Tinere, Inc. and McNally Industries.

In the letter, Amaya summarizes the reason to support STEM programs. “STEM education is essential to maintaining our position as a world leader by creating critical thinkers, increasing technical literacy, and enabling the next generation of innovators.”

Pirate Nation

The idea for her Pirate Nation decals came about at a family dinner. Her uncle, Aaron Bentley, offered his services and vinyl cutting program, and the family thought decals would be a fantastic way to raise funds and show support for the Grantsburg School District.

“The Grantsburg School District has played a vital role in Amaya’s success as a student, and I think that is why it is so important to represent how much (they) and the Pirates mean to Amaya,” Cassie said.

With that in mind, Amaya designed the decals with Cassie’s help. She chose an outline of the state of Wisconsin with Grantsburg’s location marked as a heart and the words “Pirate Nation” in tribute to her school. The decals come in both the school colors: white and purple.

Although the decals have only been available for a couple weeks, Amaya has had approximately 63 orders from Facebook. She anticipates more when school resumes in April.

Pirate Nation decals are five inches square and $5.00 per decal. They are available at the Grantsburg Community Bank or by sending a request to Cassie Amundson Henderson’s Facebook inbox. All proceeds go towards Amaya’s tuition.