The students at the I Promise School, launched by basketball legend LeBron James in 2018, are getting national recognition for their steady academic improvement. Even Barack Obama took to social media to acknowledge the kids’ efforts, stating how proud he is of their success.
When LeBron James decided to open the I Promise School in his hometown in Akron, Ohio, his goal was clear: he wanted to show the school district that the state’s educational system could be adapted to include even those kids considered “at risk” and “irredeemable.”
Now, six months after school started, the inaugural classes of third and fourth-graders are beginning to see the results of their hard work.
According to a report by The New York Times, the school posted extraordinary results in their first set of district assessments.
Ninety percent of the students "met or exceeded" their goals in reading and math, outpacing 70 percent of students districtwide.
These results show that “students’ test scores increased at a higher rate than 99 out of 100 schools nationally.”
Both third and fourth graders had ranked in the lowest percentile in reading. Now, third graders moved to the ninth percentile and fourth graders to the 16th.
The same happened with math. Third graders jumped to the 18th percentile, while fourth graders moved from the second percentile to the 30th.
“PROUD is an understatement,” James tweeted about the kids’ achievements on April 12. “Kids you are smart, amazing, talented, and nothing short of INSPIRATIONAL! Teachers & all the staff ya’ll are the right ones, the real ones on this journey changing lives & numbers don’t lie. Let’s keep GROWING.”
Former President Barack Obama also took notice of the news, quoting the New York Times article and adding in his tweet:
“Another good story worth sharing: From one "kid from Akron" to a new generation of Akron kids, some remarkable early achievements at @IPROMISESchool. Great work, @KingJames —and even better work by those students. Proud to be a witness to their success.”
Although the results are remarkable, there is still a lot of work to do for the kids. Keith Liechty, a coordinator in the Akron public school system’s Office of School Improvement, told the Times that, although it is encouraging to see the growth—for the kids, the teachers, parents, and everyone involved—there’s a long way to go.
“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,” he added.
“These were the children where you went and talked with their old teachers, and they said, ‘This will never work,’” I Promise executive school director, Dr. Michele Campbell, explained. “We said give them to us.”
I Promise School receives most of its funding from the district, and additionally, the LeBron James Foundation has provided about $600,000, which helps supporting additional teaching staff, after-school programming, and tutors.
According to reports, James also covers the cost of all expenses in 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.”
The school also has a free pantry with clothes and food, which is open to the student’s parents anytime they need something.
The I Promise program also mentors about 1,100 other students in third through 10th grade across the Akron public school district.
On top of that, the students that meet specific academic criteria will receive a full college scholarship to the University of Akron.
“When we first started, people knew I was opening a school for kids,” said James. “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.”