Max Brown, 11
As a toddler, Max Brown saw any toy as a potential instrument. Wanting to encourage her son’s budding interest, his mom Ellie Brown enrolled him in violin lessons at the Music School of Delaware, under the tutelage of Jessica Hoffman and then Shelley Beard. Now a sixth-grader at Wilmington Friends School, Brown has gone on to perform on one of the country’s most prestigious stages: Carnegie Hall in New York City. He dedicates most time off from school to honing his talent, including attending the Northwestern University Bienen School of Music Summer Violin Institute and the Ithaca College Suzuki Institute Preludio Violin Program for the past two summers. An amazing big brother (according to his mom), Brown also enjoys playing and practicing with his 6-year-old sister, River; the two kids even collaborated on a recent album titled Max and River Brown: Lockdown. And when he’s not playing the violin? “I [also] play the guitar, mandolin and piano,” says Brown, who recently added percussion in the school band to his repertoire. “And I enjoy playing soccer and reading.”
Bryggen Robertson, 8
Most children’s first foray into dance is through ballet or tap. Not for Bryggen “Bryggs” Robertson. At around age 3, she began taking classes in Irish dancing, a genre that dates back to the 1600s and features reels and jigs, similar to traditional Irish folk dances. Her mother, Becky Robertson, was introduced to former world champion Irish dancer Megan Harper-Fuentes, who owns The Harper Academy of Irish Dance in Hockessin and encouraged her daughter to try it. In the six years since, the younger Robertson has participated in regional and national competitions (called a feis), where she competes in the “open” category—the highest level in Irish dance. At the 2021 U.S. National Dance Championship in Phoenix, she earned second place overall in the under 8 category. At the 2022 North American Irish Dance Championship in Montreal this past summer, she finished ninth overall in the under 9 category against the best dancers from North America and a few competitors from Australia and Ireland. Robertson, now in third grade at Ursuline Academy, has feis friends from across the country. “I love the fun of competing—and my pink sparkly dress!” she says. When she’s not practicing—sometimes three to four times a week leading up to competitions—Robertson says she enjoys swimming, running and reading.
Aaron Janusz, 17
Aaron Janusz has yet to find a sport he doesn’t like. A player on Special Olympics soccer and basketball teams, he has also participated in alpine skiing, figure skating and equestrian events through Special Olympics Delaware. A junior at Concord High School, Janusz says he likes to compete because it brings him pride and a sense of accomplishment. He is also an active Boy Scout, a member of the Silverside Swim Club team, and a cross-country and track athlete for his high school. Aaron’s mom, Lauren Janusz, says sports help her son feel healthier and stronger, and allow him to connect and socialize with others who share his interests. Fleming was born with Down syndrome and underwent surgery at 2 days old and again at 4 months old. When he was 2, he had heart surgery following a post-surgical stroke. “To see him compete the way he does is really a miracle,” his mother says. “He continues to be a fighter.”
Bethany Knutsen, 18
As a fifth-generation farmer, Bethany Knutsen’s work ethic is in her genes. A Harrington native and 2022 valedictorian at Woodbridge High School, she volunteered more than 250 hours of community service during her high school career. Knutsen was also the Woodbridge Future Farmers of America (FFA) president, the Delaware State Teen Council vice president of 4-H and the Delaware Dairy Princess. Additionally, she earned varsity letters in field hockey, soccer and cross-country. She also runs her own day camp out of her family farm, teaching children about agriculture and introducing them to farm life. “FFA taught me the value of hard work and giving back to the community,” Knutsen says. This fall, she’s continuing her FFA work at the University of Delaware, where she’ll major in plant science and minor in soil science. She hopes to become an agronomist (an expert in soil science and crop production who helps farmers improve their fields). Her interest in crops and soil was sparked in eighth grade when she competed at The Big E regional FFA event to present a project about soil health—and received a gold medal before going on to place fifth at the subsequent FFA national convention.
Kenzie Fleming, 18
As a senior at Archmere Academy and the president of the First Robotics Competition Miracle of Engineering (MOE) 365 Robotics Team, Kenzie Fleming traveled to Houston, Texas, last April for the championship event. Teams hailed from as far away as Taiwan and Israel for the international youth robotics competition. Part of Fleming’s role as president was to teach younger students and act as the function operator for Lightning Moe Queen, a name affectionately given to the team’s robot. Her interest in engineering and technology is now taking her even farther as a freshman at the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland. “I’m looking forward to the rigor and leadership opportunities at the academy,” Fleming says. She hopes to study aerospace engineering and, eventually, naval aviation. In addition to her leadership role with MOE 365, Fleming is also a competitive figure skater and a self-taught baker.
Related: Delaware’s Top Teachers Educate and Inspire in 2022