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Our View: James’ builds a way to ‘be better tomorrow’

August 7, 2018

At a late-night news conference May 31 after a calamitous Game One in the NBA Finals, Cleveland star LeBron James lost his patience, abruptly got up and walked out, wearing an elegantly tailored suit with short pants and carrying what was said to be an alligator leather briefcase.

As he left the room, he put on his sunglasses and said to the reporter whose questions annoyed him, “Be better tomorrow.”

Think what you want about James’ etiquette, those are words to live by. We all can be better tomorrow — even James at his next post-game news conference.

Being better tomorrow could also be the mission statement for the school he and his family foundation just opened in his hometown of Akron, Ohio, called the I Promise School. It’s a public school, not a charter or private school, funded by the foundation with other partners and operated by the Akron school district.

It already has a powerful mission statement — “We are family” — and a good motivational motto: “Nothing is given. Everything is earned.”

Those are words to live by, too, and James, one of the greatest players ever to slam-dunk, is living proof of the commitment that has earned him a lot of accolades and dollars. Hard work also made this school possible, and it holds great promise for challenged young people in Akron.

Among other accomplishments, if his school can help change the terminology for students now called “at risk” to “challenged” or something like it, that would be appreciated.

The school building in Akron, which was formally opened last week, looks like a cross between Mount Vernon and an Ethan Allen furniture gallery. Inside, it has classrooms for 240 third- and fourth-graders, with plans a complete elementary and high school program.

School days are longer and summer breaks are shorter. During the seven-week summer break, there’s an optional STEM summer camp. And the school has a holistic approach to the student and family. Parents who are out of work can get help to find jobs. Parents who didn’t graduate from high school have access to a GED program to get it done, and if housing is a problem, the school will help them find a decent place to live.

The model for I Promise won’t be for every school district, at least until every district has a superstar as an alumnus or alumna. Among other perks:

Every student gets three free meals a day at school, leaving nothing to chance that a child doesn’t have enough to eat at home. There’s also a food bank for families that need groceries for home.

Every student receives and wears a free uniform. Your letters to the editor about the virtue of wearing school uniforms are welcome.

Every student gets a free bicycle and helmet, because James says having a bike made all the difference for him as a kid.

There are daily classes that focus on healthy life habits, and “support circles” for students to learn and build relationships.

And every student who graduates is guaranteed free tuition at the University of Akron.

At the dedication ceremony last Monday, James called it one of the greatest days of his life. “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.”

Young people need to hear that from the people they most admire, and see it in action, whether modelled by Jamesian-caliber athletes or by the adults in their lives.

The I Promise model won’t work everywhere — they won’t be giving away free bikes in Rochester or free tuition in St. Charles anytime soon — but if James and his Akron school keep their promises, it can have an impact everywhere.

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