Teachers at a new public school in Akron, Ohio, welcomed students on opening day with applause, high fives, and big smiles. But perhaps no one had a bigger grin than basketball great and hometown hero LeBron James.
“This is a huge moment in my life,” James said at the July 30 opening. The I Promise School (IPS) is his parting gift to Ohio. This summer, he announced he was leaving the Cleveland Cavaliers to play for the Los Angeles Lakers.
IPS kicked off the school year with 240 students in grades 3 and 4. By 2022, it will serve children in grades 1 through 8. Students receive free uniforms, bikes, and meals. When IPS kids graduate from high school, they’re promised a full scholarship to the University of Akron.
The school is unique in other ways too. For one thing, it has a longer school day. Students are in class from 9 to 5. That’s because they need extra help. Many IPS kids struggle with assignments. Some have had behavior problems. Others have worries at home that keep them distracted. IPS works to help students overcome such challenges.
“LeBron really believes in education,” Michele Campbell told TIME for Kids. She is executive director of the LeBron James Family Foundation. The group partnered with Akron Public Schools to develop IPS. “LeBron was a public school kid, so helping kids just like him was very, very important to him,” Campbell says.
TEAM PLAYER James has committed $8 million to fund the I Promise School.
GREGORY SHAMUS—GETTY IMAGEs
James grew up poor in Akron. He and his mother moved frequently. In fourth grade, he missed 83 days of school. Support from the community helped him get back on track.
IPS aims to support kids in much the same way. Every day at IPS begins with an “I Promise circle.” This gives kids a chance to talk through what might be bothering them. The school also has a food pantry and resources to help parents find jobs.
“All of these things combined create an atmosphere where students feel loved and valued at school,” Nicole Hassan says. She is the Akron Public Schools liaison to IPS.
Student Erialle Turner, 9, told TFK she is already happier at I Promise. “I feel thankful. This school helps me be a better person.”
What’s more, Erialle says, IPS has one feature she thinks is especially cool: “It has all of LeBron’s game shoes.”
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