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Annual Middle Level

Conference & Exhibits

New England League of Middle Schools are leaders in promoting middle level best practices by providing collaborative learning experiences that support students’ intellectual, academic, social, and emotional growth and success. 

43rd Annual Middle Level Conference
March 25 & 26, 2024
"Bring Back the Joy!"


Keynote Presenters - Biographies

General Session Keynote - Monday, March 25, 2024

Jen Cort

Jen Cort is an education consultant in the areas of equity, inclusion, diversity and justice. Jen is a diversity practitioner, author, podcast host, school counselor, trustee, coach, speaker, consultant, and activist.  She has also served as a principal, school administrator, elementary, middle, and high school counselor.  She has presented at national conferences, hosts a diversity institute, is a frequent contributor to publications, and her work has been quoted in Racing Toward Diversity, Insights, Friends Journal, NAIS Independent Journal, Washington Post, Boston Globe, New York Times, and more. Jen is the host of an internationally syndicated podcast  "Third Space With Jen Cort"

Luncheon Keynote - Monday, March 25, 2024

        Argy Nestor

Argy Nestor has dedicated her life to the field of education. For three decades she taught middle school visual arts, served for 13 years at two Maine state agencies working with visual and performing arts educators, and then returned to the classroom to establish Sweetland Middle School. In her work she continually asks: "what is in the best interest of learners?" In 2007 she established an educational blog; now called, Argy’s Point of View (, which contains over 4,500 archived posts. Argy is most proud of the accomplishments of the Maine Arts Leadership Initiative that recognized 150 teacher leaders. She is deeply committed to facilitating learning opportunities for educators knowing that it will impact the achievement of all students.

Argy has a master’s degree in education from the University of Maine at Orono and an undergraduate degree from Glassboro State College (now Rowan University). She is Maine’s 1995 Teacher of the Year, participated in the Japanese Fulbright Memorial Fund Teachers program, and has received several awards for her commitment to education including the Distinguished Service Award from the National Art Education Association and Outstanding Middle Level Educator Award from the Maine Middle Level Association. 

Argy has presented at the regional, state, national, and international level on a variety of topics. In July 2016, Argy's commitment to global education led her to Malawi, Africa, where she conducted a transformative 10-day arts integration workshop for teachers in the village of Mpamila. Her dedication to education was acknowledged by the HundrED program in Helsinki, Finland, and she remains an active member of their Academy.

Recently, Argy has taken time to nurture her own artwork and embark on a creative journey with a poet friend, resulting in the publication of a book titled Catching Fireflies

General Session Keynote - Tuesday, March 26, 2024

     Ashley Bendiksen

Ashley Bendiksen is a national speaker and award-winning activist, leading change in the areas of domestic violence and sexual assault prevention, as well as resilience, mental health, and personal development. 

She's been seen on major news media, including the #1 true crime podcast on iTunes, and was featured in an 8-times award-winning documentary on Notoriety Network. Ashley graduated as Valedictorian of Salve Regina University with a B.A. in Administration of Justice and built an accomplished career in criminal justice, victim services, primary prevention, policy, advocacy, and communications. She is sought after as a top speaker for youth and schools, in addition to training first responders, victim services providers, workplaces, and military bases.

As an activist, Ashley has spearheaded countless social change initiatives, successfully lobbied for the passage of new laws, and held leadership and chairperson roles for dozens of nonprofit and grassroots organizations. She is also the founder of the Blue Hearts Project - a global storytelling platform for survivors of abuse - and co-manages an online support group alongside ABC’s The Bachelorette, Katie Thurston. In her local community, she serves on two boards of directors, which includes her county’s domestic violence resource center.

Passionate about mentoring youth, Ashley is also the co-founder of Island Youth Coaching - an agency specializing in life coaching and college consulting for teens and young adults. She also coaches trauma survivors as a Certified Life Empowerment Coach, Victim Advocate, and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) Practitioner. Ashley is also extensively trained in trauma recovery, holistic wellness, and alternative healing modalities and is experienced in providing LGBTQ+ and BIPOC-informed support, as well as assisting non-cis and male survivors.

Ashley held the title of Miss Rhode Island for America in 2021. Before this, she held the title of Miss New Bedford 2009 and placed in the Top 5 in the Miss Massachusetts pageant. She also serves as the editor of two major magazines in her community.

Luncheon Keynote - Tuesday, March 26, 2024

    Michael Chase

How does one transform adversity and pain into purpose and impact? Michael Chase will share his inspirational story of survival, perseverance, and kindness.


He has been recognized as a hero from the tragic events at the Boston Marathon in April of 2013. Standing only a few feet from the second blast, Chase was spared by a large planter, sprang into action providing medical attention to those less fortunate, and worked to save lives.


Michael Chase evaded fatal physical harm but did not remain unscathed. He still struggles with the memories, images, and impact from the actions of a human with seemingly no humanity. With destruction comes creation and from the shrapnel an inspiration arose.


Now to add to his long list of positions within the community; father, teacher, cop, coach, healer, protector, and hero, Chase inspires crowds across the country to live intentionally kinder lives and how to overcome whatever challenges life throws our way. 


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