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The Student News Site of Darien High School


The Student News Site of Darien High School


New Staff at Darien High School Work to Destigmatize Mental Health

Get to know the Teen Talk Counselor and the Wellness Center Director!
Katie Galligan
Pictured left to right is Ms. Ashley Lopez the Teen Talk Counselor and Ms. Judy Phillips, the Wellness Center Director. The Wellness Center has more than just cookies! The addition of a Wellness Center Coordinator means that there is always different activities and games set up such as coloring, Soduku, crosswords and puzzles. Every day promises something new and there was once baby chicks!

Live footage of an aquarium, puzzles and hot chocolate. Fairy lights, paintings and stuffed animals. These are just some of the things you’ll find in the Wellness Center and the Teen Talk Counselor’s new office. 

The new Wellness Center Director, Ms. Judy Phillips, and the Teen Talk Counselor, Ms. Ashley Lopez, are bringing new plans for destigmatizing mental health and wellness in the Darien High School community. The two new staff members join DHS this year as a part of new programming within the district led by the new mental health director, Alycia Dadd. Both Ms. Phillips and Ms. Lopez have been working on getting to know the students by seeking out their feedback and building a rapport. 

Ms. Lopez is a part of an organization based in Greenwich called Kids in Crisis which provides a 24-hour-helpline. The Teen Talk  program began in 1999 and puts Master’s level mental health counselors in middle and high school’s. Their goal is to help students navigate through their problems and provide preventative education on issues related to the health and well being of young people. 

“I find joy working with adolescents. Just seeing how they flourished within the program from the internship that I had.” Ms. Lopez said. “It really motivated me to obtain this position at DHS and be able to connect with students in a way that not most of the staff members in the school are able to.”

Ms. Lopez is available whenever her door is open at her office in the library. She will also be in the Wellness Center periodically. (Katie Galligan)

One of the most distinctive aspects of Ms. Lopez’s position is that while she does work with the school, she does not work for them. All of her work with DHS’ students is completely confidential unless a student is in danger. Her beautifully decorated office is located at the end of the library. If you take a right once you enter and walk all the way down you can say hello, grab a lollipop and learn about her thirteen pets.  

“I want to be an integral part of DHS and show them that I am here as additional support” Ms. Lopez said. “I’m not a teacher or that adult being that you have to be scared to be yourself with.” 

Ms. Phillips is also a new adult in the building who hopes to connect with students in a new way. 

“There could be some stigma around wellness and a lot of times people associate that with only mental health.” Ms. Phillips said. “But there are so many aspects to wellness. I want to make it the norm rather than something that people think is out of the ordinary.” 

Her position means that the Wellness Center is now open all day instead of just lunch. She has big plans for the Wellness Center including Wellness Wednesday activities, Wellness Walks and other surprises. She has worked with Darien youth through the Noroton Presbyterian Church and the YWCA and hopes to use this experience to help her in her new position.

The Wellness is a tech free zone which means no cell phone usage is allowed. All food and drink you grab in the Wellness Center must also be consumed in the Wellness Center. (Katie Galligan)

These new staff members come as the district tries to improve their mental health services following the 2021-2022 school year. The Board of Education has been creating a strategy to address student mental health throughout every grade. This means creating a culture where it is ok to not be ok. Ms. Phillips and Ms. Lopez are beginning programs which will hopefully cultivate that culture in the years to come.

“Darien is such a unique place and there are a lot of competing demands for everyone’s time and attention. There tends to be a lot of pressure on everyone from students to staff to the entire town.” Ms. Phillips said. “And we need to normalize that taking care of wellness is a priority. If we can start teaching that to our high school students and have that go up to the adults and down to the lower grades and make it the norm in our community, it’s healthy for everyone.”

If you need help, reach out to any trusted adult in the building including Ms. Lopez, Ms. Phillips and guidance counselors. You can also call 911, 988 (suicide hotline), 203-661-1911 (Kids in Crisis Hotline) or other trusted emergency numbers.


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About the Contributor
Katie Galligan
Katie Galligan, Writer
Katie Galligan is a senior who has been writing for Neirad since the Fall of 2022. She enjoys writing about the arts, music, clubs, and current events in the Darien community. She spends her free time as a ballet dancer at the Darien Arts Center and the Editor-in-Chief of the Current Literary Magazine. She is interested in pursing international relations and journalism in the future.

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