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Each year, the National Youth-At-Risk Conference (NYAR) hand-selects individuals that demonstrate innovation in their respective areas. From educators and administrators to school counselors and social workers, NYAR’s featured presenters offer a wealth of expertise and information.

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A.J. Ali

Session Titles:

Growing L.O.V.E. in Your Community

What is This Thing Called L.O.V.E.?

Biography:

A.J. Ali is the director and producer of “WALKING WHILE BLACK: L.O.V.E. is the Answer,” an award-winning documentary about improving relations between police and people of color. He also authored the L.O.V.E. is the Answer workshop and book. Ali is a 2019 BMe Vanguard Social Determinants of Health Fellow, a member of the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Community Justice Panel, a member of the Santa Monica College General Advisory Board, and an active member of ACTS Church in Santa Monica. He is also a service-disabled U.S. Air Force veteran, and his wife Jane have been happily married for 25 years.


Timothy Allen

Session Title:

Mama, That’s Not Helping

Biography:

Rev. Timothy Allen is a nationally recognized lecturer on urban issues. A native of the city of Boston, Allen began his career in the corporate world, experiencing success in engineering, sales, and executive recruiting. His heart for the plight of individuals who experience high risk drove him to begin working directly with this population as his vocation. For more than 25 years, he has worked with incarcerated men, youth at risk, and their families. He has pioneered strategies to assist individuals re-integrating into their home communities and has designed and delivered trainings for families to help support them. His innovations have caught the attention of law enforcement agencies, schools, and community and faith-based organizations for which he is a regular speaker, trainer, and consultant. A devoted husband and father, Allen is also the senior pastor of the Greater Friendship Missionary Baptist Church, an urban ministry that focuses on restoring broken families. He is the author of the book Before the Fall and is also featured in the Emmy award winning documentary “Protect, Serve & Care.”


Phylicia Anderson at the 2019 National Youth-At-Risk Conference

Phylicia Anderson

Session Title:

Black Girl Magic: Understanding Our Misunderstood Black Girls through Therapeutic  Relationship Building

Biography:

Phylicia Anderson’s purpose is to transform herself and others into becoming the adults they needed when they were younger. She has experience in mental health services, therapeutic relationship building, special education, conflict management, de-escalation skills, cultural and diversity awareness, behavior and classroom management, family services, case management, public speaking, youth-at-risk, foster care, student outreach, individual and group counseling, and advocacy. She has shared her expertise in various schools, workshops, and conferences through presentations and consultations. Anderson hopes to inspire and motivate all people to explore innovative ways to help themselves, advocate for others, and to make impactful change for all.


Kiana Battle

Session Title:

Grief and Loss: Shedding Light on Our Youth

Biography:

Kiana Battle is a licensed master social worker. She received a PhD in social work policy planning and administration from Clark Atlanta University in 2015. She also received a BA in sociology (2001) and an MSW (2003) in social welfare from the State University of New York at Stony Brook. Prior to joining the Georgia Department of Corrections, Battle served as the district social worker for the Lamar County board of education, the school social worker for Long beach Public Schools (Long Beach, NY), an assistant professor of sociology and human services at Gordon State College, an assistant professor of social work at Middle Georgia State University, and currently serves as an adjunct social work professor for Aurora University. Battle is passionate about helping adults and children who are impacted by trauma. She has dedicated her career to educating others on the importance of trauma-informed practices and research interventions, specifically for individuals impacted by grief and loss. She is the co-author of Real Girls: Shifting Perceptions on Identity, Relationships, and the Media (2010), Real Girls: Reflections (2011) and Grief, Why Me? Why Not Me?: A Journey of Self-Discovery (2015). Battle has also been a featured presenter at several national conferences including the National Association of Social Workers Conference.


Linda Beggs

Session Titles:

The Transformative Power of Student Voice

How to Build Schools and Communities of Hope through Student Voice, Community Partnerships, and Wraparound Services

Biography:

Linda Beggs is a veteran facilitator focused on helping organizations and individuals work better together to produce results. Her extensive work in schools and nonprofits, paired with her background in corporate culture and change management prepared her to engage schools to create the high-trust culture essential to implement wraparound resource centers. In 2017, Beggs joined educator Leigh Colburn to launch The Centergy Project. Together, they now work with schools in Georgia, Illinois, Alabama, and Virginia to launch student and family support centers that are customized to the barriers and assets of each community. They are under contract with Solution Tree to publish their first book in the fall of 2020.


David Bill

Session Title:

“The Georgia Youth ChalleNGe Program: A Life-Saving Impact”

Biography:

David Bill has served in both the military and in education. His military career of nearly 30 years, began in 1981 when he earned his commission as an army officer from Georgia Military College (GMC). Before this, Bill earned an undergraduate degree in business from Georgia College & State University (GCSU) as well as graduate degrees in public administration and mass communications from GCSU and Walden University respectively. In his career, Bill has served in various positions with the Georgia National Guard including tours in Iraq and Afghanistan as a public affairs specialist, telling the extraordinary story of Georgia’s heroes. He returned to GMC as the ROTC recruiting officer in 1989 and, in 1992,  he transitioned to an enrollment management position where he served with distinction until leaving in 2016. Bill came to the Youth ChalleNGe Program as deputy director for the new Milledgeville campus and was asked to create a state-wide recruiting outreach program in 2018.


Joanne Billingsley

Session Titles:

Dyslexia: Discovering My Superpower

“Building Literacy Skills: One Word at a Time

Biography:

Joanne Billingsley is a national presenter, author, consultant, and award-winning teacher. She inspires and motivates educators to explore new techniques and strategies for reaching and teaching all students, particularly English language learners (ELLs), special populations, and those that struggle to succeed in school. Her work combines current neuroscience research with best practices in teaching and she is passionate about supporting educators and sharing creative strategies for building brain-friendly, language-rich, interactive classrooms. Billingsley is the president and founder of Billingsley Education and the creator of Vocabulary Magic, a research-based, six-step process for accelerating the acquisition of academic language.


Keith Brown

Session Title:

“Restorative Just-Us: Empowering “At-Risk” Youth to Release, Relax, Reflect, and Restore”

Biography:

Early in his life, Keith L. Brown was labeled “special ed,” and “at-risk”—two labels that would come to define his purpose of taking youth from “impossible,” to “I’m Possible.” A recipient of the Lifetime Presidential Achievement Award, who was also named a world-class speaker by the International Speakers Network and a social action hero by Thrive Global, Keith Brown has empowered hundreds of thousands a year in schools, supplemental educational agencies, colleges, universities, government agencies, and faith-based institutions. A former client referral consultant for A&E’s “Beyond Scared Straight,” Brown is also a frequent guest on Sirius XM, Radio One, and iHeart Radio on topics such as education and social justice, motivation and empowerment, and youth and family advocacy.


Richard Cleveland

Session Title:

Mindfulness: Aligning Head, Heart, and Hands

Biography:

Richard E. Cleveland is an associate professor at Georgia Southern University. His research focuses on school counseling, mindfulness, and spirituality. Presentations span district, state, national, and international levels. He has written for practitioner-focused books as well as scholarly journals. In 2016, Cleveland was the initial speaker for Georgia Southern University’s inaugural TEDx event. In 2018, he supervised a grant-funded research collaboration between the Pentagon and Georgia law enforcement. In 2019, he was invited to the International Symposium on Solitude at York St. John University. More recently, he was an invited speaker at the Oxford International Symposium on School-Based Family Counseling.


Leigh Colburn

Session Titles:

The Transformative Power of Student “Voice

How to Build Schools and Communities of Hope through Student Voice, Community Partnerships, and Wraparound Services

Biography:

Leigh Colburn is an experienced educator and co-founder of The Centergy Project which provides consulting to districts who are interested in launching embedded wraparound services within their schools.  For a decade, she proudly served as the principal of Marietta High School, and, in 2015, she founded the Graduate Marietta Student Success Center which was recognized in 2016 by the Georgia legislature and the Georgia Charter Foundation as the Education Innovation of the Year.  In 2017, Colburn began her career as a consultant and she joined community and leadership consultant, Linda Beggs, to launch The Centergy Project. Colburn and Beggs are now working with schools in Georgia, Illinois, Alabama, and Virginia to launch student and family support centers that are customized to the barriers and assets of each community. Colburn’s first book published by Solution will be available during 2020. 


Steve Edwards in a black suit with multicolored, brown tie.

Steve Edwards

Session Title:

Nurturing the Culture to Ensure Success for All

Biography:

A leader nationally recognized by USA Today for his innovative approach to education, Steve Edwards, PhD, successfully implemented numerous groundbreaking programs to improve student performance during his 16-year tenure as a school administrator. As president and chief executive officer of Edwards Educational Services, Inc., he has been instrumental in helping countless organizations tailor similar programs with positive, far-reaching results. He is also the chief executive officer of, and expert contributor to, The National Principals Academy, an organization dedicated to helping educational leaders improve their professional practice. In addition, Edwards is an internationally recognized keynote speaker, facilitator, and trainer regularly featured as a content expert on television and radio with appearances on CNN.


A photo of Matt Eldridge, standing in front of a bookshelf while wearing a blue suit jacket and a white button up.

Matt Eldridge

Session Title:

The Four R’s of De-Escalation

Biography:

Matt Eldridge is beginning his 34th year in public education and his eighth year as director of schools. He is an author, master instructor, and owner of Certified Restraint Training (CRT). He travels the nation teaching de-escalation and safety skills to educators and health care professionals. Throughout his career, Eldridge has served in all areas of education. He believes teachers have the ability to inspire, lead, and give students the opportunity to succeed. He has served as a teacher, state champion football coach, principal, supervisor, and director of schools throughout his career.


Katie Greer in a blue suit jacket and blue top sitting at a rustic table

Katie Greer

Session Titles:

Healthy Technology: How to Help Kids Strike a Healthy Balance with Technology

Kids’ Social Media and App Trends: What’s New? What’s Now? What’s Next?

Biography:

Katie Greer has spent over a decade educating students, parents, law enforcement, administrators, and communities throughout the country on digital safety issues. She previously served as the director of internet safety for the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office and an intelligence analyst for the Massachusetts State Police, Greer also serves as a media industry expert, having been featured on CNN, Inside Edition, FOX News, Daily Mail, and in TIME Magazine, Good Housekeeping, USA Today, and more.


Tom Harris

Session Title:

Therapeutic Drumming for Community: Using Inclusive African Drumming to Teach Self-Regulation and Social Skill

Biography:

Tom Harris, founder of the Youth Villages Therapeutic Drumming program, has been a musician since the mid 70’s. After receiving his master’s degree in  counseling, he began playing djembe in 1996 and created the Therapeutic Drumming program at Youth Villages outside of Atlanta. Notable performances with youth were at the Lincoln Center in 2002 and music festivals in Washington, D.C in 2004, 2005, 2008, and 2011. In 2009,  he began certifying therapeutic drumming facilitators in his model. A popular presenter, he has conducted workshops at numerous professional conferences around the country and internationally.


Joe Hendershott

Session Titles:

Transforming the Lives of Wounded Students

Supporting the Wounded Educator

Biography:

Joe Hendershott is a sought-after speaker on the effects of trauma on learning, behaviors, and working with wounded students™. As president of Hope 4 the Wounded, he provides consulting and staff training, an online course, and has authored three books. Hendershott has over 30 years in education and is the recipient of the National Crystal Star Award for dropout prevention and the Bixler Award, which recognizes excellence in education. His ongoing research and practical experiences as an educator paired with his personal experiences as an adoptive father give him a unique perspective that is engaging, thought-provoking, and inspiring.


Cary Holman

Session Title:

The Right Prescription: A Dose of Relationships, Laughter, and Networking

Biography:

In addition to his school being recognized as a 2018-2019 Reward School, Cary Holman’s experience includes presenting at the Nuts and Bolts Symposium, National Youth-At-Risk Conference, Tennessee LEAD Conference, and the Tennessee Association of Middle Schools Conference. Holman has served as the integrated leadership course and TEAM trainer from 2015-2016 for the State of Tennessee, the middle school principal PLC leader for Rutherford County School District, and as a member of the REA/TEA executive board and the Minority Affairs Committee for the Tennessee Education Association.


Hotep

Session Titles:

For Principals and Admin. Only! Avoiding the Failing School Cycle

Addressing the Poverty Mindset

Biography:

Education success strategist and congressional award-winning author, Hotep is widely known for his proactive, tough-love approach to education. He is a 15-year master teacher that has developed a reputation for requesting the most troubled students and transforming them into willing participants in their own education. Hotep is the founder of Hustle University and creator of the MAKE A WAY program, a series of high-relevance curricula which are used in over 1,000 schools throughout the United States. His profound work has earned him nominations for the Presidential Citizen’s Award and as a CNN Hero. He is also the creator of the revolutionary Outcome Progression Model which he uses to transform the climate and culture of poverty, excuse making and helplessness into one of empowerment, resiliency, and success!


Joe Johnson

Session Title:

Pursue Your Purpose, Not Your Dreams: Jay Z Did It and “At-Risk” Students Can Too

Biography:

Joe Johnson, PhD, is a former standout college athlete who understands the importance of developing individuals and organizations in as many ways as possible. He’s had the luxury to gain experiences working in and with corporate America, K-12 school settings, higher education, and many entrepreneurs. As a national speaker, trainer, peak performance coach, and entrepreneur leader, Johnson continues to transform the lives of individuals and organizations by shifting mindsets which translates into purposeful thinking, acting, and living. As the author of the books Pursue Your Purpose Not Your Dreams and The College Kids, he is excited to continue developing individuals and organizations that are ready to move to the next level of their greatness through purposeful strategy creation and implementation. Known around the country as the man with the best smile in the world, he is always excited to watch the growth and transition into who and where we should be!


Frank Kros

Session Titles:

The Resilience Code: Five Practical Tools for Building Resilience in Youth

Resilience for Child-Serving Professionals: The Helper’s Guide to Achieving Extraordinary Mental Health

Biography:

Frank Kros is a career child advocate who has served as a childcare worker, child abuse investigator, children’s home administrator, consultant, professor, attorney, writer, and speaker. His engaging presentations focus on “helping adults help kids.”  He was awarded a Maryland Governor’s Citation for his presentations on adolescent suicide and he received the 2019 Advocate of the Year Award from the Maryland State Council on Child Abuse and Neglect for his presentations on childhood trauma. Kros is a master trainer on the Adverse Childhood Experiences Study and has co-authored the books Creating the Upside Down Organization: Transforming Staff to Save Troubled Children and The Upside Down Organization: Reinventing Group Care.


Bea Lewis

Session Title:

Do You Know What You’re Doing to Your Kids?: 7 Things You Really Want to Say to Parents!

Biography:

Bea Lewis is an author, public speaker, chief executive officer of BEAHIVE Education Consulting, LLC, and retired educator with 36 years of experience. She has presented at the 2019 Innovative Schools Summit in Las Vegas and has been selected to present her capacity-reaching, room-filling session, “Conversation Techniques for Difficult Parents, Students, Teachers and Administrators”, at the ASCD Empower20 Conference in Los Angeles among others. Her real, raw, and relevant style, infused with humor, keeps her audiences engaged and allows her to speak from the heart with conviction, passion, and authority to impart her common-sense advice.


Takeysha Lewis

Session Title:

Count Yourself In: Effectively Serving Students by Encouraging Daily School Attendance

Biography:

Takeysha is a district attendance and transfer coordinator for the Bibb County Public School District, where she previously served as the district school social worker. She has worked with the Child Protective Services for the State of Georgia, as well as on the local level. These experiences have afforded her the opportunity to work with youth and families from diverse backgrounds. She is a proud product of the Bibb County Public School System and holds a bachelor’s degree in social work (Fort Valley State University), a master’s degree in social work and a specialist degree in educational leadership (Valdosta State University). Her experience includes working with students and families in public education, with families in Child Protective Services, working as a hospice social worker, and in the community sector for local non-profit organizations. Her passion is to engage and inspire every child on the importance of obtaining an education. This drives the work she performs on a daily basis with students and families—providing children with the knowledge to understand that their future is a shared future.


Wes Montoya

Session Titles:

The Opportunity Myth and Gap: What Educators Need to Know

“Biases: What Good and Fair People Need to Know”

Biography:

Wes Montoya, PhD is the principal at the Gilliam Youth Detention Center for Denver Public Schools. He has worked with youth at risk—primarily Latino students—for more than 30 years. As a teacher, he taught math, science, and social studies. He has also been a dean of students and an assistant principal in both low- and high-performing schools with free and reduced lunch (FRL) populations as high as 100%. Dr. Montoya has worked at the Colorado Department of Education as a Title I senior consultant and completed his PhD at the University of Denver, Denver CO.


Steve Parese

Session Titles:

“Therapeutic Behavior Management”
“Fire-Fighting or Fire-Proofing?: Proactive Prevention of Tomorrow’s School Shootings”

Biography:

Steve Parese, Ed.D., is a specialist in cognitive behavioral and crisis interventions for challenging populations, such as youth at risk, former offenders, and welfare-to-work individuals. Currently an author, teacher, and international speaker, he has worked as a wilderness counselor in the mountains of North Carolina, as a special education teacher in Maryland’s suburbs, and a university professor in Washington, DC. For the past 20 years, Parese has lived in the small mountain town of Danbury, North Carolina where he is active in his church and community.


Thomas Peterson

Session Title:

Igniting Hope in Youth from High-Risk Settings

Biography:

Thomas Peterson has served for 27 years as a professor of critical theory and philosophy of education at the University of West Georgia (UWG). He teaches courses including Philosophy, Critical Theory, and the History of Education. His interests include teachers’ inner-life, renewal, spirituality, and working with youth from high-risk settings. The son of a preacher, Peterson lived his formative years in Southeast Asia. Prior to his appointment at UWG, he was an elementary and middle school principal in North Carolina, a high school teacher in California and Maryland, as World Masters gold medal winner in badminton, a flight instructor, and father to three sons and five grandchildren.


Patrick Phillips

Session Title:

There’s Nothing Wrong With Me…I Just Don’t Learn the Way You Teach

Biography:

Patrick Phillips, is an award-winning national speaker, author, educator, and President’s Volunteer Service Award recipient. He is the author of eight books including Decisions: A Young Man’s Guide to Avoiding the Traps, Change 101, The Intentional Student, and The Adventures of Little Jam book series that he co-authored with his seven-year-old son. Phillips is a firm believer that one does not have to be great to get started but one does have to get started in order to be great. He has spoken at several national conferences including the National Youth-At-Risk Conference, National ASDC Conference, National Black Educators Rock Conference, and dozens of schools and community organizations. To learn more about Phillips, his books, and student development series on YouTube by visiting his website,  www.MrPhillipsTheChangeAgent.com.


M. Christopher Pugh

Session Title:

Humanity in the Black: Applying Counter-Racist Logic with Comedy and Hip Hop

Biography:

M. Christopher Pugh graduated from the Ed.D. Curriculum Studies program at Georgia Southern University in May 2019.  He was born and raised in Atlanta, Georgia and attended school in Dekalb County where he graduated from Cedar Grove High School. He graduated from Georgia Southern in 2006 with a degree in broadcasting and production and a master’s in counselor education in 2008. Pugh served as the assistant director of the Multicultural Student Center from 2008 to 2015 at Georgia Southern, and coordinated and advised the Minority Advisement Program, Student African American Brotherhood, and the Pathways to Success program. He also served as an advisor over eight collegiate student organizations.  He teaches Diversity in Educational Context at Georgia Southern University for students who are interested in entering the teaching profession. Pugh also provides mentoring services for schools in Bulloch County.


Eric Rowles

Session Titles:

20 Tools in 60 minutes:  Real (and Free) Tools to Raise Your Youth Engagement Game

Beyond Icebreakers: Powerfully Interactive Tools to Engage!

Biography:

Eric Rowles is a nationally recognized trainer and speaker who has worked with over 150,000 youth, adults, administrators, and policy-makers within the past 15 years. His previous experience includes work as the senior director of training with the Youth Leadership Institute in California, the director of leadership development at Rutgers University in New Jersey, the director of international youth summer abroad in California, the substance abuse prevention coordinator with Riverside County Friday Night Live in California, as well as running a traveling theater company that toured for over 10 years. Rowles is also a former professional DJ and renown for his powerful, energetic, and tool-focused presentation style.


Rajni Shankar-Brown

Session Title:

A Kaleidoscope of Understanding and Action: Poverty and Homelessness in Pre-K Through 16.

Biography:

Dr. Rajni Shankar-Brown is an Endowed Chair of Social Justice Education at Stetson University. She serves as Executive Director of the Poverty and Homelessness Conference, Executive Board of Directors for the National Coalition for the Homeless, and Co-Chair of Equity and Social Justice for the International Society for Information Technology and Teacher Education. She is a distinguished educational leader and scholar committed to advancing equity-excellence, particularly for diverse, underserved students. She facilitates workshops around the globe and publishes in leading journals/books. Her collection of poetry Tuluminous is praised as “a marvelous and meaningful testimony of the power of language to heal and transform” by Presidential Inaugural Poet, Blanco, and Shankar-Brown is described as “Poet Laureate of the just society” by NYU’s Moral Courage Project Founder, Manji. She is also a recipient of the Engaged Scholar Award by Campus Compact, Transformative Leadership and Equity Award by Volusia County Schools, Summer Scholar Fellowship by National Humanities Center, and the 2018-2019 Educator of the Year by FL’s Chapter of PDK International. Dr. Shankar-Brown is also a devoted mother, artist, and social activist.


LaMarr Darnell Shields

Session Title:

Ubuntu Teaching: Closing the Equity and Opportunity/Achievement Gap
“Beyond Stereotypes: Redefining Images of Young Men of Color”

Biography:

LaMarr Shields is a social entrepreneur, inspirational speaker, and educator who loves to create and build with purpose. As the co-founder and senior director of education and innovation at The Cambio Group, and former professor at the Johns Hopkins School of Education, Shields has dedicated his life to inspiring adults and youth alike to pursue a higher purpose, achieve sustainable value for long-term success, and cope with adversity in order to create opportunities in their personal, professional, and spiritual lives. This bilingual author, master teacher, public speaker, social entrepreneur, and thought leader is a dynamic presence who has appeared on NPR, ABC, NBC, CNN, and BET and is, according to University of Maryland-Baltimore County’s President, Freeman A. Hrabowski, a “courageous, visionary leader with boundless energy and an undeniable message of hope in the midst of adversity.”


Curlandra Smith

Session Title:

Count Yourself In: Effectively Serving Students by Encouraging Daily School Attendance

Biography:

Curlandra is currently the PBIS coordinator for the Bibb County School District. She was previously a school social worker for the district and also served as an educational therapist and special education lead teacher at a Georgia Network for Educational and Therapeutic Support (GNETS) program in Bibb County. She has taught students with an array of disabilities from Autistic spectrum to SEBD. She graduated from Fort Valley State University with a Bachelor’s degree in Social Worker and a Master’s Degree in Social Work from Valdosta State University. She also holds an Educational Specialist degree in Teacher Leadership from Valdosta State University. She has an array of experience from working in public education and in the field, to working directly with families and children within the foster care in Georgia. She has also worked as a Hospice Social Worker and a Social Worker for the Department of Juvenile Justice. Mrs. Smith’s passion is to empower students, families and community to unite to create a positive climate, not only in our schools, but also at home and in the community.

March 8-11, 2020    |    #NYAR20    |    Hyatt Regency    |    Savannah, GA

Last updated: 10/3/2019