LeBron James appears for the opening of his Family Foundation’s I Promise School

July 31, 2018

LeBron James appears for the opening of his Family Foundation’s I Promise School

AKRON, Ohio – The first day of school for the LeBron James Family Foundation’s I Promise School ended with a celebration that brought more than 1,000 supporters to 400 West Market St. in Akron.

The Goodyear blimp circled above, music played and banners flew for the partners that helped build the school, ranging from the Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co., which provides mentors and sponsors STEM programs and to Project LEARN,  a nonprofit that offers GED classes for adults. A Cleveland children’s choir, the Singing Angels, also performed.

“This is the culmination of years of work and dedication to creating generational change through education,” said Master of Ceremonies David Lieberth, a former Akron deputy mayor and advisory board member of the family foundation.

The I Promise School was created through a partnership between Akron Public Schools and the LeBron James Family Foundation to serve academically at-risk children in the I PROMISE Network.

This year, 240 third- and fourth grade students are attending classes that run from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., July through May. Each year, more grade levels will be added so by the 2022-23 school year, the school will serve grades first through eighth.

The school will incorporate all the tenants of the existing I PROMISE Network -- learning, self-respect, good health and perseverance.

Through specialized programming, the school will continue building on the foundation’s “We Are Family” culture, which promotes social-emotional learning and works to educate the whole student by focusing on both academics and character building.

The I Promise program offers wrap-around services for students and their families to ensure they have the academic, career and emotional support they need to have a better future.

The I Promise School was a “significant undertaking and a labor of love for all of us,” Akron Public Schools Superintendent David James told the crowd. “And while it is a new approach for us, it is in no way an experiment.”

As a former high school teacher, Mayor Dan Horrigan also stressed the importance of educating kids through a hands-on approach.

“I know first-hand what good education, a creative teacher, a thoughtful tutor can do for a young child or a teen,” Horrigan said. “It literally can be life-changing.”

The celebration included a tribute to the foundation’s many partners -- nonprofits, schools and businesses. Representatives of the entities filed into the staging area, carrying flags and banners as Lieberth announced them. The oldest students in the program recited the I Promise pledge.

When LeBron James took the stage, he thanked those who helped make the school a reality.

James also explained a little about his childhood in Akron. He said he clearly remembers walking and riding his bike on the streets adjacent to the I Promise school.

“I know exactly what these 240 kids are going through,” he said. “I know the ups the downs. I know everything they dream about. I know all the nightmares they have, because I’ve been there.”

James, who went to Akron public schools from kindergarten to eighth grade,  missed school often - 83 days in fourth grade - because he and his mom, Gloria James, a single mother, moved frequently.

He said the most important thing is to give kids structure and let them know they are cared for.

“They just want to know that someone cares, ” he said. “That’s why we’re doing this today, that’s why we’re going to continue to do things like this.”

More than 1,300 children in 32 schools across the Akron district receive that support through the I Promise program. All eligible students in the program who graduate from high school and complete specific classroom criteria are guaranteed a four-year college scholarship, which James partnered with the University of Akron in 2015 to provide.

Want more Akron news? Sign up for cleveland.com’s Rubber City Daily, an email newsletter delivered at 5:30 a.m. Monday through Friday.

Update hourly