05 August 2018

Introducing LeBron James and his "I Promise" school

Most Americans don't need an introduction to LeBron James, but I suspect many readers of this blog do not follow sports carefully, and I know that in the past month there have been readers here from over a hundred countries*, so a few words of explanation are in order.

LeBron James is arguably the best basketball player ever to play the sport.  He went directly to the pros from high school without playing in college.  Those interested can browse his biography for the sports statistics - I want to focus on some other aspects of his life.

His exceptional athletic skills have not surprisingly resulted in huge salaries and lucrative endorsement contracts (he was signed by Nike - when he left high school - for $90 million).  In 2016 he was the third-highest earning athlete in the world (after Ronaldo and Messi).

That fame and fortune is not blogworthy, in my view; there are lots of extremely wealthy professional athletes.  I'm writing this post because of what he has done with some of that money.  NBC Nightly News featured the story this week:

For those speed-reading the post and without time for a minute-long video, here are the key points about the school as described in Time:
The most unique feature of the school may be the most ordinary: it’s a traditional public school. Celebrities often back charter schools... Or they open unorthodox private schools... James made a point of giving Akron a new public school. “It’s not a charter school, it’s not a private school, it’s a real-life school in my hometown.”

That said, the school is far from traditional. Its lengthy school day runs from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., along with an extended school year that runs from July through May. During a seven-week summer session, the school will provide STEM-based camps. Students will spend time each day on social-emotional learning, and participate in a “supportive circle” after lunch aimed at helping them refocus on work, Cleveland.com reports.

Nutrition is also central to the school’s mission. Every day students will receive free breakfast, lunch, snacks and drinks. They will have access to a fitness trainer. James says that, as a kid, he used his bicycle to explore different neighborhoods of Akron — so he gave one to every incoming student...

Since the school considers education to be not just for the pupil but for the whole family, it will offer GED classes and job placement assistance for parents and guardians...

The school selected area students from among those who trail their peers by a year or two in academic performance...  The school is launching with third- and fourth-graders, but plans to add grades each year until it houses first through eighth grade in 2022.

Students get one other notable benefit: If they successfully complete the school program and graduate from high school, James will cover their full tuition at the local public college, University of Akron.
This is a comprehensive approach to education that is way different from the typical charitable gift 
that just funds a building with someone's name on it.  James grew up in poverty in Akron, born to a 16-year-old mother and an absent father.  He understands that a modern school building and curriculum will not lead to success unless the students also have adequate nutrition and an improved home environment.  Also note the rigorous schedule: the school day is eight hours long and the academic year is 10 months long.  And note they chose students not based on prior success, but on prior failure - those trailing their peers in performance.

The next point to make.  LeBron James is the man to whom Laura Ingraham famously said "Shut up and dribble," when he had the effrontery to criticize Trump in an ESPN video.

The above is a screencap; the 2-minute commentary is embedded at this NPR site.  She gives viewers a "dumb jock" alert before showing a clip of James "talking politics again," which she describes as "barely intelligible not to mention ungrammatical."  "Unfortunately a lot of kids and some adults take these ignorant comments seriously.... This is what happens when you leave high school early to join the NBA... Lebron and Kevin, you're great players, but nobody voted for you; millions elected Trump to be their coach.  So keep the political commentary to yourself, or as someone once said, 'shut up and dribble.'"

James responded to her: "We will definitely not shut up and dribble. ... I mean too much to society, too much to the youth, too much to so many kids who feel like they don't have a way out...

That was background.  Here's what came next...

Two days ago, after LeBron's school was publicized, Donald Trump mocked LeBron's intelligence and education:

(The "Mike" he is referring to is basketball player Michael Jordan).  Trump was responding to a public statement by LeBron James that Trump is "dividing America":
“We’re in a position right now in America where this whole race thing is taking over. One, because I believe our president is trying to divide us. He’s dividing us, and what I’ve noticed over the last few months is that he’s kind of used sport to kind of divide us. That’s something that I can’t relate to, because I know that sport was the first time I ever was around someone white. I got an opportunity to see them and learn about them, and they got an opportunity to learn about me, and we became very good friends. I was like this is all because of sports. And sports has never been something that divided people. It’s always been something that brings someone together.”
But wait... there's more...

I noticed this week an article in the Washington Post about a crucial special election to replace a Republican who resigned in January coming up this week... in Ohio..
Ohio’s 12th Congressional District, which spans the largely well-to-do suburbs around the state capital and backed President Trump by 11 points in 2016, has been solidly Republican for decades...

But after a string of Republican special-election losses over the past year in areas that voted for Trump but have grown less supportive of him, the vote here on Tuesday to replace Tiberi has suddenly emerged as the latest big test foreshadowing which party will win control of the House in November...

...the 31-year-old Democratic candidate, Danny O’Connor, has kept apace with [the Republican candidate] Balderson, with the latest Monmouth University poll showing the race to be a statistical dead heat...

In a freewheeling 70-minute rally inside a sweltering high school gymnasium Saturday night, Trump briefly promoted Balderson as “really tough . . . really smart” and “the guy that’s gonna do things,” while belittling O’Connor as “a low-level person that did nothing.”

Democrats on the ground say Trump’s visit would only galvanize their efforts in the few days before the election.
Special elections are often determined by voter turnout.  So here is a special election for a historically Republican seat in Congress that is now a statistical tossup and at risk of being flipped by the Democrats, and just before the election Donald Trump disrespects the most popular athlete in the state.

The Republican will probably still win, but I think I'll bookmark this as an example if/when I ever blog a discussion of the term "tone deaf."

Update:  O'Connor is losing by a vote of 50.2% to 49.3% (and Green party candidate 0.6%) with 100% counted but absentee and provisional ballots outstanding.

Blogger's note:  I've spent a couple hours today researching and composing this post, so this will be all my blogging for a day or two.  I would prefer that any comments about this post focus on LeBron James and/or on public education etc.  I plan to delete any comments about Trump/Ingraham etc because at the moment I just don't have time to wade through a shitstorm of political bickering.  I'm due to write another q3monthly "Trump clump" in another couple weeks; save those comments for then.

Addendum:  A tip of the hat to reader Bulletholes for locating an article from Cleveland that provides some details regarding the expenditures by LeBron James vs. those of the school district in developing and maintaining this school and its curriculum.

*click map in right sidebar and scroll down

Top photo via Sports Illustrated.


  1. The school selected area students from among those who trail their peers by a year or two in academic performance...

    Thank you Lebron! Finally someone who helps the kids that are having a hard time!

    The competitive nature of the American school system makes it very hard to catch up if you've fallen behind for whatever reason. In fact, it's punitive towards kids that fell behind.

    Glad someone breaks this pattern.

  2. Talk about making a difference! LeBron James is obviously a man of vision, compassion and generosity. The world needs more like him.

  3. I had heard of him starting a school, but this is so much more than I expected. LeBron is impressive in being a celebrity millionaire who really speaks his mind and backs up his words with deeds.

  4. I reposted this to FB. In order to get ready for the blowback, I dug around a little. James didn’t pay for the whole thing. The state picks up most of the costs, but he has added a sizable chunk to the kitty. It wouldn’t happen without him.
    I’ve never liked him much before. But sometimes the more you know about a person the harder it is to dislike them.
    Dribble on Mr James, dribble on!

    1. Bulletholes, do you have those figures for the proportions paid by the state and by James? I presume the teacher salaries are from the state, plus whatever else would be "standard" in a school, and he added the amenities (and the college tuition guarantee) - but I didn't find any numbers when I researched this. I'd sure like to see them.

    2. Here is the article I looked at. It says the final tally is unclear, but probably James contribution is about 2 million for the first year, which represents about 25% of the costs.

    3. Excellent! A detailed general discussion - just what I wanted. Thanks, Bulletholes.

  5. i was unfamiliar with him due to my disinterest in sports and lack of television viewing, but now i see him as a very admirable person. this is what people of character do with wealth. and his comments on the divisive state of politics i find accurate and dignified.

  6. He's like Mother Teresa, only with skilz.


  7. Another very active and very generous community benefactor is LeBron's former teammate Dwyane Wade. I remember Shaq donating generously to a school I taught at, it was never reported.

  8. Thank you as always for another informative, timely blog post. I appreciate too, the link to coverage on the city/foundation partnership. Nice work.

  9. He is doing a wonderful thing, as an Ohioan it's nice to hear something positive about the people of my state. Thanks for going beyond the headline and giving the details!
    For what it's worth, both my siblings live in the contested district and intend on voting.

  10. This comment has been removed by the author.

    1. if those NFL players who think that kneeling is making a difference instead followed Mr. James' lead.

      It is and they are.

      I hope this does not qualify as a political comment

      Nup. It's a willfully ignorant comment. Seriously. Learn to google.

    2. I did not state that NFL players do nothing to make a difference in their communities. I clearly made the point that kneeling during a song has little or no effect on improving things. Mr Kaepernick and many other athletes have been doing positive things for years. What does that have to with kneeling during a song?

      BTW, I am a veteran (Southeast Asia) as are many people in my family. None of us care if someone wants to kneel for the anthem. Just don't pretend that kneeling is changing anything.

      Note that I managed to reply with nary an insulting or disparaging comment aimed at you.

    3. I clearly made the point that kneeling during a song has little or no effect on improving things.

      But it does. You noted it, and you have an opinion about it. And that's the point of any protest. I may find your opinion willfully ignorant, the kneeling players may wish you had a different opinion, but yet their protest got noted and that's the point of any protest.

      I am a veteran (Southeast Asia) as are many people in my family.

      And that's relevant how? It seems to imply that if I am not a veteran, you will somehow discount my opinion. That's pulling rank, not winning an argument.

      Note that I managed to reply with nary an insulting or disparaging comment aimed at you.

      Wow. Congratulations!

    4. Protest is not supposed to make you feel comfortable.


  11. Kudos to Lebron!

    This seems to be done with the parents (and their work schedule) in mind a bit more than for the children. Shorter school days, especially those which start later in the day, actually improve academic performance. Whether the benefit comes from one less day per week at school or shorter days in general is still up for debate, however.


    Additionally, increasing the number of school days per year doesn't necessarily translate into academic success. There are so many hours each day, and days each year which are little more than babysitting and time wasting at any school. It does seem that this school has a plan in place (with the emphasis on STEM classes in the summer) to not just pass the time idly. However, over the long term, this too could lead to student and teacher burnout.


    1. I don't know, but I would guess that one rationale behind the longer school day and longer academic year is that for this subset of children the school may be a more enjoyable and safer environment than their homes and neighborhood.

    2. Based on the family focus of this school, I'd guess that the longer school days and year were implemented to assist working families who would normally have to find (and pay for) daycare.

      Many school districts provide "extended care" programs- before and after the school day and then all day during the summer. You could look at it as babysitting, but the schools also provide enrichment opportunities during extended care. Kids are in a safe environment with peers while their families work. This is a common practice and a lot of kids are at school/extended care for 8+ hours per weekday year round.

      The cost for my kids to attend extended care is $4.50 per kid per hour. The minimum wage in Ohio is $8.15/hr.

      This school will help a great number of families who have to choose between spending all of their wages on daycare or just not working.

  12. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  13. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  14. The longer school year may give us a breakthrough in American schools. I don't remember if it was a TED talk or a New York Times articles, but there was some study that indicated that when kids take the summer off, their learning slips. Worse--IT IS CUMULATIVE OVER THEIR SCHOOLING! That means that it all adds us...so that American kids may be several YEARS behind kids of other nations at the same grade level.

    Further, the first few weeks of the school year is often taken up by REVIEWING what they learned the last year! So this not only makes for perhaps not getting a full year's worth of school, but means that this, added to the summer slippage, makes it even worse!

    If there is one thing I would change about this incredible gift to the children and state of Ohio, it is that the longest break of the year would be, say, no more than four weeks. Or, for that matter, just go to a four-day school year...all year-round, with maybe a couple of two-weekers included. Just my thoughts as a teacher.



Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...