LeBron James may have taken his talents and his family to Los Angeles this offseason, but he left a colossal legacy back in his home state of Ohio. Sure, James will forever be considered an Ohio legend for bringing the Cleveland Cavaliers franchise its first NBA championship in 2016. However, with Monday’s launch of his I Promise School, he has now made a lasting, monumental impact for the future of Akron, his hometown.
What’s remarkable about I Promiseis that it’s not a private or charter school with James’ name simply splattered across the building. It is a public school, housed within the Akron Public Schools district. It is the result of collaboration between the district and the LeBron James Family Foundation.
Just like James’ do-it-all skillset helped evolve the game of basketball, the all-encompassing approach for I Promise was developed in hopes of evolving public education, specifically in urban areas.
“…We want [the kids] to be successful not only in the school, but successful in life,” James told Theresa Cotton of the Akron Beacon-Journal. “We’re gonna give ’em everything that they need and give them criteria that they all can meet, depending on the individual.”
James did not exaggerate when he said the school will provide the children with everything. Students of the tuition-free school will receive the following items at no charge: uniforms, a bicycle and helmet, meals, snacks and transportation within two miles.
The school will also feature free services for the students’ families, including a food pantry, GED and job placement services for parents. If that wasn’t enough, all graduating students will qualify to receive full, guaranteed tuition to the University of Akron.
The approach is similar to the one taken by Jennings School District under former superintendent Dr. Tiffany Anderson. When Anderson arrived at Jennings in 2012, the district was in poor finances and only provisionally accredited due to low test scores. By the time she departed in 2016, test scores had risen dramatically, the district was fully accredited and maintained a balanced budget.
Much of the success was due to the way the district sought to help families via food pantries, access to laundry facilities, continuing adult education and more. When external distractions and problems that come from living in poverty are eliminated, students achieve.
If the approach worked with Anderson and Jennings here in Missouri, think of how it can thrive in Akron with the backing and financial resources that James brings to the table.
“We are going to be that groundbreaking school that will be a nationally recognized model for urban and public school excellence,” I Promise principal Brandi Davis said. “We are letting people know it is about true wrap-around support. True family integration and true compassion.”
Much of James’ inspiration for the school came from his personal experience as a student in Akron Public Schools. James said that as a fourth-grader, he missed 83 days of school. The absences were due to an unstable home life, as he and his mother bounced around Akron. They stayed with relatives and friends, sometimes for just days or weeks at a time.
That’s why the I Promise School isn’t catered to high-achieving youth. It’s catered directly to underperforming kids from at-risk environments.
The district identified students who will be entering third- and fourth-grade who were one or two years behind in reading. Those students were then entered into a lottery to determine which students would attend the new school as its inaugural class of third- and fourth-grade students. Next year, the school will expand to add second and fifth grades. By 2022, it will cover grades one through eight.
“This means everything,” James told The Associated Press in an interview before the public opening of the school. “I think this is the greatest accomplishment for me because it’s not just me. A championship is for a team, that’s for an organization and a city. But these kids, this is for generation after generation after generation and it’s for these kids, so it means everything.”
In the NBA, James has been oft-criticized for ring chasing. He’s caught plenty of flack over the years, including from this columnist, for teaming up with All-Stars and helping the “super team” trend continue. It is quite ironic now that James is bring praised and lauded for bringing together a “super team” of educators, businesses and community service providers to help the children of Akron thrive.
His investments into Akron could help identify, educate and inspire the next LeBron James on the basketball court. More importantly, it could help identify, educate and inspire the next LeBron James of medicine, law, engineering, business or technology.
When it comes to giving back to the community, there’s no question that James is the real MVP.
Follow Ishmael and In the Clutch on Twitter @ishcreates.