Wellness Program

Interior Masthead

The Friends Select Wellness Program, now in its fifth year, engages the school’s community and the general public about mental health and other wellness issues. It is spearheaded by Molly Patterson, Ed.D., the middle and upper school learning specialist, Natan Gottesman, Ph.D., the school’s psychologist, Gabrielle Witkin, M.S.Ed., M.Phil.Ed., the middle school/upper school counselor, and Chris Singler, upper school director. The program provides information, strategies, support, and resources to students, faculty, and families in the Friends Select community and beyond. Through speaking events, presentations, and participatory activities, the program increases awareness of issues that can affect student learning and well-being, such as mental health challenges, learning styles, peer relationships, social media and internet use, academic pressures, the college application process, and current events.

2020-21 Wellness Program Events

Youth Suicide Risk: What You Should Know
Monday, May 17, 2021 
7:30 - 9:00 p.m. on Zoom

RSVP here

In recognition of Mental Health Awareness Month, Friends Select’s Wellness Program presents Dr. Terri Erbacher in a virtual discussion about youth suicide risk. Even prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, which for many has brought increasing feelings of isolation and symptoms of depression, there was already an alarmingly high rate of suicide attempts and completed suicide among youth. In fact, in children between the ages of 10 and 18, as well as in college age youth, suicide is the second leading cause of death. Fortunately, we also know that four out of five teens who attempt suicide have given clear warning signs. It is incumbent upon all of us to learn more about the signs and symptoms of risk for suicide among youth and learn what we can do. The Friends Select middle and upper school faculty recently participated in a training on this topic offered by Dr. Erbacher, and the Wellness Program is now pleased and honored to invite Dr. Erbacher to speak with our wider community.

About the Speaker

Terri A. Erbacher, Ph.D. is a certified school psychologist and licensed psychologist in Pennsylvania. Dr. Erbacher received both her master's and doctoral degrees in school psychology from Temple University, and has earned a grief and loss specialization certificate from Widener University and a school suicide prevention specialist certificate from the American Association of Suicidology. Dr. Erbacher has practiced as a school psychologist since 1999 and was a core school psychology faculty member at Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine from 2007 to 2020. She began her private practice in 2014.

Dr. Erbacher brings with her vast experience as an author, distinguished speaker, consultant, and guest expert to the media. Among her many areas of focus have been crisis management, school mental health, threat assessment, and suicide prevention. She has written extensively on these topics and authored the 2015 book, Suicide in Schools.

Dr. Erbacher has also held many leadership and board roles. She is the past president of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, the past chair of the Delaware County Suicide Prevention Task Force, and currently serves as the crisis committee chairperson for the Association of School Psychologists in Pennsylvania.

Finally, Dr. Erbacher has received multiple awards for her service, including those from the Survivors of Suicide and the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, and was previously named Pennsylvania’s School Psychologist of the Year.

About the Major Van Winkle '12 Wellness Fund

This program is made possible by the Major Van Winkle '12 Wellness Fund. This fund was established through the generosity of Major’s family, classmates, and many friends as a tribute not only to his life but also his care and compassion for others. Major, who took his own life at the age of 26, would have wanted students to have access to the help they need and for them to know that they are not alone. The goal of this fund is to have open conversations, increase awareness, and educate our community to recognize warning signs that may lead to crisis, and to equip students with the skills to increase their overall well-being.


Helping Students Thrive During Pandemic Schooling
Wednesday, September 30, 2020 
Watch this presentation here.

Pandemic schooling is challenging and can be a source of stress for students and families. Students in remote learning may miss the interactivity, connections, and consistency of in-person learning, and they may worry about changes to grading systems, workload, and navigating technology. Additionally, students going back to classrooms will experience changes due to new safety regulations. In this presentation, geared to parents PK-12, Dr. Denise Pope of the Challenge Success Program addressed concerns that families may have about the impact of remote and in-person learning during the pandemic. She shared her expertise related to students’ academic and social-emotional journeys, offering practical tips and guidelines for supporting student well-being and engagement with learning, both at home and at school.

About the Speaker

Denise Pope, Ph.D., is a Senior Lecturer at the Stanford University Graduate School of Education, where she specializes in student engagement, curriculum studies, qualitative research methods, and service learning. Challenge Success works with schools, families, and communities to embrace a broad definition of success that promotes student well-being and engagement with learning. It helps foster learners who are healthy, motivated, and prepared for the wide variety of tasks they will face as adults. It is an expanded version of the SOS: Stressed-Out Students project that Dr. Pope founded and directed from 2003-2008. She is the author of “Doing School”: How We Are Creating a Generation of Stressed Out, Materialistic, and Miseducated Students, which was awarded Notable Book in Education by the American School Board Journal, 2001, and co-author of Overloaded and Underprepared: Strategies for Stronger Schools and Healthy, Successful Kids.

Dr. Pope lectures nationally on parenting techniques and pedagogical strategies to increase student health, engagement with learning, and integrity. She is a 3-time recipient of the Stanford University School of Education Outstanding Teacher and Mentor Award and was honored with the 2012 Education Professor of the Year “Educators’ Voice Award” from the Academy of Education Arts and Sciences.

Prior to teaching at Stanford, Dr. Pope taught high school English in Fremont, CA, and college composition and rhetoric courses at Santa Clara University. She lives in Los Altos, CA, with her husband and three children.


Wellness Meetings

As an ongoing foundational aspect of the program since its inception, Natan, Molly, and Gabby meet with small groups of upper school students throughout the school year for “Wellness Meetings.” Issues such as mental health, academic successes and struggles, stress and stress management, navigation of upper school expectations, and time management are discussed.


The Wellness Program is made possible by support from Jeff Abrams and Margaret Barry, parents of Friends Select alumni.

Past Wellness Program Events

In the 2017-18 school year, the program brought Kenneth Ginsburg to speak about his book, Raising Kids to Thrive: Balancing Love with Expectations and Protection with Trust. The program continues to expand, with events intended to increase conversation about the connections between stress, overall mental health and well-being, and academic engagement.

In the 2018-19 school year, the Wellness Program hosted a screening and panel discussion for Angst: Raising Awareness Around Anxiety, an IndieFlix documentary that explores the multilayered effects of anxiety on our society. This film was screened for parents and the wider community, as well as for faculty and students in the upper and middle school. In addition, speakers were brought in from the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), who presented information about mental illness to upper school students, with one speaker candidly sharing her own personal experiences with mental illness, treatment, and recovery.

In the 2019-20 school year, the Wellness Program presented adolescent mental health expert Anthony Rostain and family therapist B. Janet Hibbs, authors of The Stressed Years of Their Lives: Helping Your Kid Survive and Thrive During Their College Years. They discussed their recently published book, which is intended to help students and parents cope with the stress and anxiety associated with college.