Basketball star LeBron James grew up in Akron, Ohio, the son of a teenage single mother. He remembers missing weeks of school at a time while they moved from apartment to apartment, never stable, never sure they wouldn’t be living in their car next month. It took a toll on his education that he only escaped because of the opportunities afforded him by a sports career.
This year, the basketball star is leaving Cleveland with a new $154 million contract with the Los Angeles Lakers. But he’s leaving his home with a tremendous gift.
Through the LeBron James Family Foundation, the I Promise School will be a public elementary school teaching at-risk youth in Akron with a STEM focus. It will have a non-traditional schedule, with a school year that began in July and will run year-round with multiple short breaks instead of a summer vacation. School days are long, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., to give students from unstable households plenty of time to receive help with their studies. The school includes a family resource center that will allow parents to get better access to help so that they will be able to fully support their children.
James came up with the idea while researching the high dropout rates in Akron. The I Promise School, which is completely funded by the foundation, provides uniforms, transportation, two meals a day, and tuition aid for every graduate. There’s also a food pantry on campus, and GED and job placement services for parents. Currently, every student enrolled is also given a free bicycle and helmet. In exchange, the students agree to a simple code of conduct which emphasizes simply showing up and doing the work.
This year, the I Promise School is open to students in third and fourth grades, the grades which James struggled hardest in. By 2022, it intends to be fully operational, with classes for grades K-8.