In July of 2018, LeBron James opened up the I Promise School in conjunction with his foundation and the Akron public school system. This piece of education philanthropy was a first of its kind – it provides wholistic resources for both students and their families. Financial support has been used to add teaching staff to help reduce class sizes as well as provide after-school programming. Additional support covers the cost of all expenses in the school’s family center, which provides parents with G.E.D. preparation and health and legal services. Students were identified as the worst performers in the Akron public schools and many had social and behavioral problems.
According to the New York Times, the early results are in for the 240 students in the third and fourth grade classes – the students posted extraordinary results. 90 percent met or exceeded individual growth goals in reading and math, which outperformed peers across the Akron school district. These students exceeded the 70 percent of students districtwide and scored in the 99th growth percentile of the evaluation association’s school norms. James told the New York Times, “These kids are doing an unbelievable job, better than we all expected. 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.”
The school’s principal said they are reigniting educational and life dreams that were already extinguished in third and fourth grade. I Promise is providing a lifeline to these students and families so that they don’t fall through the cracks and continue the vicious cycle of generations before them. While this is a big gain, it is a small victory within the education space. Students have a long way to go to join their peers in the middle of the bell curve. The standardized tests given at the end of the year will be a big indicator into how sustainable these gains are. However, this is not to diminish the incredible work that occurred in year one with these students.
Why We Like It
LeBron James is working at creating a lasting change in his hometown community. This social issue is authentic to his brand and life – James was a product of these school systems, so he understands the importance of receiving a quality education, especially at a young age. He knows this community in an intimate way and has a burning desire to save the children that were born on the same streets that he was. As a result, his passion is legitimate and can be clearly communicated by his team and foundation.
How It Can Be Improved
Education is playing the long game. While there are short-term wins, the gains are seen over many decades as the students pass through the hallways, go on to high school, and ultimately college. It is important to continue to innovate year in and year out so that the I Promise School can speed up the education process and catch its students up with the rest of the pack. This will require additional funding and resources, which James is spearheading through his foundation and his platform. It would be wise to make the I Promise school the signature cause of his foundation so that there aren’t mixed messages in the community. Consumers and donors tend to feel philanthropic burnout, so by limiting the amount of asks and focusing on the I Promise School, James can ensure lasting success for its students.
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