Last year, when three-time NBA champion LeBron James opened the doors to his I Promise School in Akron, Ohio, he categorized the event as “one of the greatest moments” of his life. Now, less than a year later, the Los Angeles Lakers star is standing by those words as his kids have already surpassed the expectations that were set before them.
According to The New York Times, 90% of the school’s inaugural class of 240 third and fourth graders have met or exceeded individual growth goals in reading and math, putting them ahead of their peers across the district. This means that these same students, who were once identified as the worst performers in Akron public schools, are now playing an integral part in closing the area’s achievement gap.
“These kids are doing an unbelievable job, better than we all expected,” James told The New York Times. “When we first started, people knew I was opening a school for kids. Now people are going to really understand the lack of education they had before they came to our school. People are going to finally understand what goes on behind our doors.”
I Promise, which is a public school operated by the district, is made up of 60% Black students, 15% English-language learners and 29% special education students. Three-quarters of the students in attendance at the school also come from low-income backgrounds and receive help from the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services.
While the school has been given a $2 million budget by the district, LeBron James’ foundation has donated an additional $600,000 to help provide more teaching staff support, as well as an additional hour of after-school programs and tutors. The foundation has also stepped in to cover the cost of the school’s family resource center, which provides parents with G.E.D. preparation, work advice, health and legal services and even a quarterly barbershop.
Brandi Davis, who serves as the school’s principal says, “We are reigniting dreams that were extinguished – already in the third and fourth grade.” She adds, “We want to change the face of urban education.”
Keith Liechty, who works as a coordinator in the Akron public school system’s Office of School Improvement says, “It’s encouraging to see growth, but by no means are we out of the school woods.”
He explains that while the students have exceeded the individual expectations that were set before them, “the goal is for these students to be at grade level, and we’re not there yet. This just tells us we’re going in the right direction.”
James’ I Promise School is an extension of the work he and his family’s foundation have been doing in his hometown for years. In total, the I Promise program supports about 1,100 other Akron public school students in third through 10th grade, who are provided with mentoring resources, as well as college and career preparation resources that are estimated to have cost $2.6 million this school year. For the students in the program who meet a certain academic criteria, James has agreed to grant them a full scholarship to the University of Akron to further their education.
“Proud is an understatement,” James tweeted out in response to his school’s success. “Kids you are smart, amazing, talented, and nothing short of inspirational! Teachers and all the staff, y’all are the right ones, the real ones on this journey changing lives and numbers don’t lie. Let’s keep growing.”