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Redefining America’s Education Agenda:
Level Up Mental Health

Why this topic and why now?

It is our humble estimation that the nation is facing a mental health crisis and the future of our country rests on our ability to protect the social and emotional well-being of our nation’s children and those that support them.

PUSH for Excellence recognizes that mental health encompasses one’s emotional, psychological and social well-being, and is an essential component of overall health.

Therefore, the next event in this critical thinking series is designed to address the topic of mental health, the factors that contribute to declining mental health and equally important, the type of support systems needed to assist students and adults in developing the mental strength of a warrior. 

In this virtual national discussion, the distinguished panelist will:

*Acknowledge the fact that mental health is an essential part of overall health.

*Outline the pandemic’s unprecedented impact on the mental health of America’s youth, their families and their teachers.

*Address the factors that can shape the mental health of students.

*Provide strategies for supporting and strengthening the mental health of children and youth.

*Discuss the need for wrap around services in the school setting and the benefits of such to the community at large.

*Provide policy-based and practical recommendations for addressing the topics raised throughout the critical thinking discussion. 

Come and serve as an active participant in this national discussion as Dr. Sonya Whitaker, National Education Policy Director for PUSH for Excellence moderates this Critical Thinking Series panel.

Virtual Panel Discussion
Thursday, March 24, 2022
6:30 – 8:00 pm CST

Meet the Moderator, Speakers, & Panelists

Moderator: Dr. Sonya Whitaker

Dr. Sonya Whitaker, the National Education Policy Director for PUSH Excel, will be the moderator of our upcoming virtual town hall discussion. Dr. Whitaker is a national speaker and highly regarded educator who started as a classroom teacher and has since served as Superintendent of Schools in two different school districts in Illinois. She also has served as Deputy Superintendent of Schools and as a central office administrator for the largest elementary school district in the state.

Dr. Whitaker is the founder of Whitaker Educational Consulting, Inc., the author of Is There Anybody That Can Teach Me How to Read?, and the host of the national radio show and podcast: What’s Really Going On??, a spotlight on solutions for improving student achievement in America’s schools.

Speaker: Rev. Jesse L. Jackson, Sr.

Rev. Jackson is one of America’s foremost civil rights, religious and political figures and the Founder and President of Rainbow PUSH Coalition, which focuses on civil rights work through economic parity, equal educational opportunities, and international social justice and peace.

Over the past 40 years, he has played a pivotal role in virtually every movement for empowerment, peace, civil rights, gender equality, and economic and social justice and was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, by President Clinton. A hallmark of Rev. Jackson’s work has been his commitment to youth. He has visited thousands of high schools, colleges, universities and correctional facilities encouraging excellence and inspiring hope in  young people.

Speaker: Loucresie Rupert, MD

Child, Adolescent and Adult Psychiatrist

Loucresie Nichelle MD, is a Child, Adolescent, and Adult Psychiatrist who currently practices at Gundersen Health System. She specializes in neurodiversity (ADHD, Autism, learning differences, etc.), children with trauma, children in foster care or who have been adopted, and adults with developmental disabilities. She received a BA in Foreign Language (Spanish) from the University of South Alabama. She completed medical school and Adult Psychiatry residency at the University of South Alabama. She completed her Child and Adolescent Psychiatry fellowship at The University of Alabama at Birmingham.

She currently aids in the fight towards racial, sexual orientation, gender identity, religious, disability and neurodiverse equality through her work as co-founder of Physician Women SOAR (Support, Organize, Advocate, Reclaim), an organization of physician women that raises money, awareness and educates for the aforementioned intersectional causes. 

She also serves her community through her participation in B.L.A.C.K. (Black Leaders Acquiring Collective Knowledge). She aims to help empower those with mental health diagnosis and neurodiversity through her company Insightful Consultant LLC via speaking engagements, education and training on a plethora of mental health and diversity-related topics. Dr. Rupert is neurodiverse herself and is an adoptive parent of 2 wonderful children.

Speaker: Jermaine Horton

President and CEO of the Art of Confidence Project

Jermaine Horton is the President and CEO of the Art of Confidence Project. His organization is a 501c3 nonprofit organization in Illinois focused on empowering youth while restoring their confidence. They work specifically with youth who has had their confidence destroyed, shattered or misplaced and show them through imagery and art how amazingly powerful and beautiful they truly are.

Whether it is hair discrimination, loss of hair from cancer, deformities etc., The Art of Confidence Project serves to show them their authentic selves. The organization has been developed to help build self-esteem, and empowerment through the art of imagery while remaining socially inclined.  Mr. Horton is the owner of Studio28 which is where he produces many of his life changing projects.

He is also an Internationally Published wedding and portrait photographer. ​His passion for telling his clients stories has garnered him clients throughout the nation; feeding his love of travel and his drive to create. He is also Sony Artisan of Imagery, Ambassador for Westcott Lighting, Stella Pro Lighting, Spider Holster, Fundy Design NPhoto Labs and SLR Lounge.

​He is a father and professional who has honed his craft by learning hands on from some of the greatest photographers in the industry.

Speaker: Dr. Keshia Rentz

Distinguished Educator and Parent Advocate

Dr. Keshia M. Rentz is a passionate mother, foster parent, educator and administrator with skills developed through years of education and experiences in diverse educational settings. As a foster parent and an educator Dr. Keshia M. Rentz finds it important to advocate for children in vulnerable positions in society and within the educational system. Dr. Keshia M. Rentz is the mother of three sons and currently fosters two additional children. Dr. Rentz has always had a passion for children and has fostered children for fifteen years

Dr. Keshia M. Rentz earned her B.S. in Psychology from Bethune Cookman University – Daytona Beach Florida, Master of Education in Management/Administration of Educational Programs, and a Doctor of Education in Organizational Leadership/Human Services Administration from Nova Southeastern University – Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Dr. Keshia M. Rentz is also certified in the areas of Exceptional Student Education (ESE), Elementary Education K – 6 and Educational Leadership. Her current roles/responsibilities include but are not limited to Dean of Discipline and Teacher on Assignment at a public high school located in Central Florida.

Her education work experience includes classroom teacher, cheerleading coach, and administrator. Within these roles Dr. Keshia M. Rentz is responsible for 10th through 11th grade discipline, Problem Solving Team (PST) Chair for Attendance, Academics and Behavior. Dr. Rentz also mentors several 1st Year Teachers while supervising several interns starting their educational career. Dr. Rentz also plays a vital role in campus security as the current Supervisor of Campus Advisors for campus security and functions as 2nd in Command of the Security Team and facilitates threat assessments for mental health concerns as a member of the Mental Health Assessment Team (MHAT).

Speaker: Dr. Courtney Orzel

Associate Director of Professional Development for the Illinois Association of School Administrators

Dr. Courtney Orzel is the Associate Director for Professional Development for the Illinois Association of School Administrators. She joined IASA in 2020 after serving as a superintendent for 7 years and has held various positions such as adjunct professor, middle school principal, assistant principal, and teacher.

Dr. Orzel has been honored with national recognition as a finalist for the Women in Leadership Award and leads the IASA SuperWomen initiative in Illinois. She was named IASA’s South Cook Superintendent of Distinction in 2020 and currently leads hundreds of workshops, keynotes, and administrators’ academies statewide.

About Redefining America’s Education Agenda Series

We need an education agenda that makes equity a priority for schools and organizations serving our country’s most vulnerable children and their families. The ultimate goal of this series of events is to bring policy makers and members of the education community together to discuss shaping our educational agenda and pushing it to the front of public policy at local, state, and federal levels.