Keynote Speakers

professional headshot of jennifer sommerness with chin length red hair

Jennifer Sommerness

Tuesday, 7/30/19 Keynote Speaker: Jennifer Sommerness (Consultant, Educator & Author) is the Executive Director of Inclusive Schools at Kids Included Together (KIT). She has been a nationally-known inclusive education consultant, working with teachers, families and administrators to collectively find engaging and respectful ways for all learners to access general education environments and curriculum, regardless of ability. As an independent consultant, she helped create and strengthen school-based teams to continuously improve their practice through meaningful professional development, attention to instructional leadership, and a tacit understanding of systems change. As an adjunct professor at the University of St. Thomas in Minnesota, Jennifer taught aspiring teachers the foundational skills required to instill inclusive practices into their profession. In addition, she has collaborated and co-authored several peer-reviewed journal articles, a book chapter, curricula and online materials about collaboration, co-teaching, teacher leadership and inclusive education. In her Keynote presentation, “What Success Looks Like,” Jennifer will share a lifetime of experiences and stories, highlighting the learning that has come from working with numerous teams to develop effective systems of supports for children with the most complex of needs. This presentation will not only inspire, but provide specific tools and strategies that can be immediately implemented for any student, no matter how complex their learning or behavioral needs may be. Jennifer’s follow-up forum, “What Success Looks Like In Action,” will educate participants about the magic that happens by establishing new standards of a three-pronged approach: Thinking, Talking, Writing and Acting in strength-based ways; writing a “Working IEP” which is educationally relevant and departs from the deficit-model of practice; and the creation and maintenance of truly collaborative teams. Jennifer currently resides in Minnesota.

upper body photo of jessie benash with long dark hair wearing a cream colored shirt standing in front of a stone building

Jessie Benash

Wednesday, 7/31/19 Keynote Speaker: Jessie Benash (Disability Advocate, Therapist, Adjunct Professor & Motivational Speaker) is a Licensed clinical social worker and child therapist who served on the Executive Board of YES! (Youth Emotional Stability). She co-wrote and received a grant for the first annual suicide awareness prevention event in Rock County. Jessie has been involved in Wisconsin’s Trauma-Informed Care movement for over 10 years and is involved with the WI School Mental health Initiative. In her Keynote, “Limb, Laugh, Love,” Jessie will describe her early life as an outgoing 15 year old cheerleader who got in a motorcycle accident that left her with a disability. She struggled to finish high school, due to both physical and mental health issues. In her follow-up forum, Jessie will focus on the differences between mental illness, trauma and other emotional challenges. Participants will learn de-escalation techniques and strategies to use and not use with students. Jessie currently resides in Southern WI with her family.