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LeBron James opens new public school in Akron

Jeff Zillgitt | 8/2/2018, 6 a.m.
LeBron James’ new school is much more than a school. It meets the basic definition, of course, but not only ...
LeBron James

USA TODAY

AKRON, Ohio

LeBron James’ new school is much more than a school.

It meets the basic definition, of course, but not only will James’ I Promise School help some of Akron’s most challenged students with education and support, it will provide educational, career and emotional support for parents.

“We are going to be that groundbreaking school that will be a nationally recognized model for urban and public school excellence,” I Promise principal and Akron native Brandi Davis said. “We are letting people know it is about true wrap-around support, true family integration and true compassion.”

The I Promise School, which is part of the Akron Public Schools, opened Monday for 240 third- and fourth-graders. The school will expand year by year, going to second and fifth grades next year until it is kindergarten through eighth grade by 2022.

“Looking at reading data, we identified students who were a year, two years behind in reading,” said Keith Liechty, the Akron Public Schools’ liaison to James’ foundation. “From that, we had more than 120 kids. We had to put a cap on it so we could fit under one roof. We did a random selection of all students who met that criteria and got to make these awesome phone calls to parents and say, ‘How would you like to be part of something different, the I Promise School.’ ”

The school is a partnership between Akron and the LeBron James Family Foundation. The idea originated a few years ago when James and his foundation’s leaders planned the next step in their effort to help students. The name of the school stems from the foundation’s road map for students who promise to go to school, do their homework, listen to teachers, ask questions and find answers, be respectful of others and live a healthy life.

What James does off the court with his foundation isn’t possible without basketball.What he’s doing with his foundation is greater than what he accomplishes on the court.

“This is affecting more lives,” James, who missed 83 days of school in fourth grade, told USA TODAY. “Basketball, when it comes to personal things, it can affect your life and your family can be very invested. When you’re doing something like this, you’re affecting more change. For a vision to be able to come to fruition, it means everything.”

In a way, the I Promise School is modeled after James’ childhood only more organized and professional. As a kid, James, who attended Akron Public Schools for eight years, and his mom, Gloria James, had help from the community.

Michele Campbell, executive director of James’ foundation, teared up Sunday when describing what the new school means.

“LeBron missed a lot of school in the fourth grade. It’s well-documented,” Ms. Campbell said. “We all know which path he took. He took the right path with some very good people around him and now we know him as the world’s best basketball player. He could’ve taken the other road. He would’ve been a statistic like a lot of students who drop out of school.”