When the doors of the I PROMISE School opened on July 30, 2018, LeBron James once again showed he’s determined to make an impact beyond the basketball court.
I PROMISE is a new public grade school for at-risk children in Akron, Ohio—James’ hometown. It’s the latest initiative of the LeBron James Family Foundation (LJFF).
LJFF partnered with Akron Public Schools to create I PROMISE. The school aims to provide a supportive learning environment for at-risk students who need academic intervention so they don’t fall behind. The curriculum uses a personalized learning approach and focuses heavily on STEM programs. And since it’s a public school, kids can access and to get the supports and services they need.
“This school is so important to me because our vision is to create a place for the kids in Akron who need it most,” James said in a press statement. “Those that could fall through the cracks if we don’t do something.”
So far, I PROMISE has welcomed 240 students for its third- and fourth-grade classes. First and second grades are scheduled to be added next year. Once the students finish grade school, they can move on to complete middle and high school at I PROMISE Secondary school. From there, LJFF promises free tuition to the University of Akron for all of its high school graduates.
The school is dedicated to helping not only students, but their families, too. It provides free breakfast and lunch, along with an onsite food bank for parents to pick out food to cook at home. The school also offers parents who need it support with job placement or with getting their GED.
Each of the school’s current 240 students is also getting a bicycle and a helmet. Gifting bikes is a core part of LJFF’s outreach. That’s because riding bikes meant so much to James as a child. “LeBron’s bike gave him the mobility he needed to get to safe places after school like basketball courts and community centers,” Michele Campbell, executive director of LJFF said in an interview.
Understood expert Mark Griffin, PhD, thinks that’s an impressive mission. As founding headmaster of Eagle Hill School, Griffin knows what it takes to create a specialized learning environment.
“It’s wonderful that he’s chosen to build this school,” Griffin says. “The toughest thing to do is finding the right people to fulfill the mission of the school. That’s most important when getting a program off the ground.”
“We’ve learned over the years what works … and now we can bring all of that together in one place, along with the right resources and experts. If we get to [kids] early enough, we can hopefully keep them on the right track to a bigger and brighter future for themselves and their families,” James said.
James recently announced he’s leaving the Cleveland Cavaliers and joining the Los Angeles Lakers. But he leaves behind a meaningful legacy for his Ohio fans in the I PROMISE school. James, who led the Cavaliers to their first NBA championship in 2016, says this project is the most important thing he’s ever done.
Griffin agrees. “The fact that he’s changing family structures and that it’s as comprehensive as it is—that’s the exciting part,” Griffin said. “That’s the most important part.”
Learn about how an NFL player proudly supports the 1 in 5. Read about a father who was inspired to open a charter school for kids with dyslexia. And see a collection of stories about athletes with learning and thinking differences.
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Tara Drinks is an associate editor at Understood.