The I Promise School in Akron, OH, funded and founded by former resident and current NBA star LeBron James via the LeBron James Family Foundation along with Akron City Schools, has a stated purpose of serving low-income and at-risk kids and focusing on Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM).
It breaks a lot of ground with a focus on the “whole child.” From trauma-informed support systems to family wraparound support, which helps solve challenges in the home and with the entire family including helping parents find a job and even get a GED. The school will make sure the kids are adequately fed, which means the understanding exists here that education extends beyond time sitting in a classroom desk and even beyond traditional teacher-student relationships.
“We have a family resource center housed on the premises of our school because we’re not only into nurturing and loving our students, but we are wrapping around—our arms around the entire family,” said Principal Brandi Davis in an interview with NPR.
The children will attend for longer days than most schools—roughly 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.—and they will even get free college tuition at the University of Akron if they graduate from the high school.
All students will get a free bike so they can get out of their neighborhoods and explore, if they want to. LeBron James grew up in a neighborhood like that, so he knows. He even missed 80 days of school in 4th grade because he and his mother had to move from one couch to the next.
The school is a public school, and it was formed in collaboration with James’ philanthropic foundation and Akron Public Schools. While he never revealed whether it might have become a charter school at any point, he had a firm commitment to the Akron City School system, which helped him through a childhood that was similar to some of the kids he sees in Akron trying to survive today.
“Walking these hallways and seeing, when I was driving here, just the streets that I walked, some of the stores are still up when I was growing up. It’s a moment I’ll never forget—and hopefully the kids, starting with the 240 kids that we have going in here right now starting today, will never forget it, either.
"We literally have a school. It's not a charter school, it's not a private school, it's a real-life school in my hometown. And this is pretty cool," LeBron James told ESPN.
— I PROMISE School (@IPROMISESchool) July 30, 2018
This point is not lost on those who are witnessing the wholesale dismantling of our public educational system in an effort to shift to for-profit charter schools.
And it's a great model for future heroes such as James to channel their philanthropy, as opposed to simply throwing money at schools in hope of changing things. This could emerge as something concrete that those who ascend to—or inherit—wealth could accomplish.
The I Promise School will become a 1st through 8th grade school in 2022.
Principal Davis believes firmly that this is a new model that can work in other cities around the country—in the public school system, rather than private.
“We are going to be that groundbreaking school that will be a nationally recognized model for urban and public school excellence. We are letting people know it is about true wrap-around support, true family integration and true compassion.”