Published: Dec. 4, 2023 By

How an NBA star, alumna, teachers and others are centering mental wellness in schools

Professional basketball player Kevin Love remembers lying on the training room floor, heart pounding, after leaving his bewildered Cleveland Cavaliers in the middle of a televised game. 

Kevin Love with a fan at a basketball game

Emotions, heartbreak and challenges are all part of the human experience and modeling helps illustrate that for students, and it also welcomes them to talk about those feelings and emotions in the classroom,” Ellie Haberl Foster said. “When their stories are met with an empathetic witness in their teacher, it encourages them to continue to open up and share.”

On the surface, the NBA star had “made it” in life and was at peak physical health. On that day in 2017, with his trainer repeatedly asking “what do you need?” it became clear that mental health challenges can happen to anyone at any time. 

After his public panic attack, the basketball power forward could have stayed silent about the anxiety that has plagued him since his early teens, but he shared his story in the media as an attempt to destigmatize mental health struggles. Support letters came pouring in, especially from young people. 

Love launched the Kevin Love Fund in 2018 to use education, research, grants and advocacy to support people, youth in particular, who are suffering. The centerpiece of the foundation is a free curriculum for middle and high school teachers that was co-designed by Ellie Haberl Foster (PhDEdu’19), the foundation’s co-director of education.  

The 18-lesson program assists educators in modeling vulnerability and works with students to express their emotions through multimodal creative projects while also learning skills that support their mental health, Foster said. 

Within the flexible curriculum teachers have a deep bench of supporters. It opens with Love’s story alongside other videos from youth and guest artists—including actor Bryan Cranston, basketball player Chris Paul and other famed performers—sharing their nuanced strategies for mental wellness. 

Students report that modeling from their teachers and others help them express vulnerabilities and feel a sense of belonging, Foster said. 

“Emotions, heartbreak and challenges are all part of the human experience and modeling helps illustrate that for students, and it also welcomes them to talk about those feelings and emotions in the classroom,” she said. “When their stories are met with an empathetic witness in their teacher, it encourages them to continue to open up and share.”

Foster is no stranger to this teaching method. As a high school English teacher, she remembers reading an emotional poem about her father that unlocked deeper levels of vulnerability in her students’ work and classroom connections. Her powerful teaching experiences led her to the CU Boulder School of Education to work with her advisor Elizabeth Dutro in the Literacy Studies doctoral program.

The Kevin Love Fund team including Executive Director Regina Miller, Co-Director of Education Ellie Haberl Foster, Kevin Love and Co-Director of Education Sara Hahn.

The Kevin Love Fund team including Executive Director Regina Miller, Co-Director of Education and CU Boulder Alumna Ellie Haberl Foster (top right), Kevin Love and Co-Director of Education Sara Hahn.

“Elizabeth’s work is about making school spaces where people feel seen, cared for, nurtured and supported—where students and teachers can bring their whole selves,” Foster said. “Her cutting-edge research challenges the notion that students who have experienced trauma or difficulty are broken and need to be healed and the deficit perspectives that often surround students’ vulnerable stories. 

“Our training helps teachers learn a new way of thinking about difficult life experiences—that students can bring these stories to their writing and art and that teachers can model this by sharing their own stories of difficult life experiences.”

Foster is grateful for Dutro’s compassionate mentorship, and she sees her work as an opportunity to share what she learned from Dutro with educators nationwide. The alignment with Love’s mission is kismet.

The Kevin Love Fund is the athlete’s response to the question left echoing in his ears following his panic attack: what do you need? With help from Foster and others, the foundation offers the kind of educational support that Love needed as a youth. Since the curriculum’s launch in September 2022, it has reached over 30,000 students with more than 80% saying they are more likely to reach out to a teacher if they are struggling. 

“We have hundreds of stories of kids who talked about what a game-changer this was for them,” Foster said. “We also did focus groups with teachers, who said things like, ‘I saw a reduction in bullying, not just in my own classroom, but in our whole school.’ 

“We think about this as a paradigm shift in what school can be. There are still norms that make kids think school is a place for thinking not feeling, but our curriculum helps students to know that you can bring your whole self into the classroom. You don’t have to pretend if you're going through something. That message is such a relief for teachers and students.”

Youth Mental Health 

50% of all mental health conditions start by 14 years of age but most cases are undetected and untreated

Source: the World Health Organization

11 years is the average delay between the onset of mental health symptoms and treatment 

Source: the World Health Organization

Learn more and access the free curriculum and teacher training at

How are you really? Students use photos and prose to explore their well-being through the Love Fund curriculum

"This is a picture of a mexican doll I have in my house. Everytime I look at a piece of Mexican culture a vulnerability of mine rises up. Although my appearance classifies me as a hispanic young girl, I have little knowledge of the hispanic culture. I don't know how to speak Spanish, I rarely cook Mexican food, and I have never had a traditional quinceanera. This picture labels my confusion of identity and my continuous struggle to label myself based on how I look."

"This picture represented how I felt during the school year. The rose in the front looks generally perfect at a glance, but if you look closer you can see that it's wilting around the edges. I related to this because last year all my classmates just saw me as a member of one of the best basketball teams in our state, but nobody really bothered to look beyond that. Nobody saw the part of me that was wilting; I was dealing with anxiety throughout the whole season but no one knew because it looked like my situation was perfect on the outside."

"This is a visual representation of what I typically feel my brain looks like when I’m struggling with anxiety. My heart rate rapidly increases, I am overwhelmed with a sense of nausea, and before I know it whatever concrete ideas I had in my head break sometimes unable to be put back together again. I’m patient with my thoughts and I like to keep them separate from each other. When the anxiety comes over me the thoughts I worked so meticulously hard to build fall to pieces and scramble in places they shouldn’t be. I feel uncomfortable that those beautiful ideas turn into worst-case scenarios advising me to find the nearest exit."

"When I’m depressed I usually work up the courage to tell someone how I am feeling however, it doesn’t immediately make me feel better. Often I feel even more naked and alone if that person can’t relate to me. I do the best I can to lower my walls (“peel back my skin”) and sometimes in that vulnerability, that same strength feels like weakness. It is never easy to tell your truth in anticipation of a gentle understanding smile or nod when in actuality you are faced with a furrowed brow or a tilted head. It is never easy to speak your truth especially when the reality of those words holds a truth you never wished was your own."

"I took a photo of a tissue box with flowers in the background (blurred out with portrait mode) to represent how right now, I'm going to be sad and I accept that but flowers often represent new life, and I'm able to see how this change is for the best."

"I chose to take this picture because I think it illustrates my struggle with anxiety and depression effectively. The picture was taken after a really hard day. I had an hour before I had to leave for practice, so I chose to lay in my car. I felt completely hopeless in that moment, and I took this picture as a reminder of the struggle. My feelings are represented through the almost dark valley the trees create keeping me from the bright happiness that is the bright, blue sky. This matches how anxiety and depression are the main drivers that have prevented me from being happy for the longest time."

"My dad left a few years ago and we haven’t connected since. The blanketed window represents my uncertainty during that time. It wasn’t clear how I should act or feel or what things were okay to express."

I saw a flower that had missing petals and connected it back to when I felt like my family wasn’t whole. I believed the stereotype that a family is supposed to have both a mom and a dad, and I had just lost that sense of security.