Give a man a fish, you feed him for a day. Teach him how to fish, you feed him for a lifetime.
Regardless of how hard and how fast the Los Angeles Lakers expectations fell in 2018-19, LeBron James has something to celebrate. His I Promise school has crossed one major hurdle- that thing all schools are judged by: test scores. The 240 third and fourth graders who entered the school year as lagging behind their peers for socioeconomic hardship reasons: can’t get to school, moved one more time, too tired, too hungry, parents in stress, mental health issues- out performed even the most optimistic projections.
Despite the fanfare of I Promise and its most famous benefactor, educators around the country took a wait and see attitude regarding the new public school LeBron is so proud of. Low income students who face hardships and hurdles their middle class peers just do not have always been challenging. How to keep them in school when forces outside of school weigh them down. How to keep their parents engaged in their education and turn off the television and start reading them books. How to keep them interested and motivated even as they struggle financially. These are bumps in the road familiar to educators who manage public school education in underserved communities with meager resources.
LeBron infused the school with money but because it was a public school there was only so much he was allowed to give. It was the staff, psychologists, social workers who picked up the slack. And so far it has been a resounding success and very aspirational.
90% of the third and fourth graders met reading and math goals or exceeded them. According to Erica L. Green of the New York Times. They “outpaced their peers across the district.” The students test scores increased at a higher rate than 99 out of 100 schools nationally. But then again, I Promise students had much farther to climb. And they did.
It is just one year but it is more than one year. Academic success breeds confidence and self-esteem necessary for ideas, goals, and dreams to marinate and eventually prosper in the fertile soil of an imaginative mind. The children now understand what learning is and what it takes to be a productive student. Because the school is structured for the parents to be involved, the I Promise success has affirmed and strengthened families. Educational success happens to families and because of families.
Next year, there will be two more grades added to the third and fourth grades and it will continue on that two grades a year scale until the school is functioning at full capacity.
The early success buries the myth that children of color and poor children and children with hardships cannot achieve. They can when given resources, dedicated teachers and a system supportive of their unique needs that also demands accountability, as they strive for academic success.
One of those resources is a focus on emotional health. Hugs and kindness and talking through negative emotions (so they don’t inhibit the students performance) is foundational to the school’s curriculum.
Keith Leichty, Coordinator of School Improvement for Akron Public Schools was determined but also nervous. “We thought we had the recipe right. We were like we can do this but then you go home and you say a prayer every night like ‘gosh this better work. The whole country is watching- our bosses, everybody is watching.”
The person who made all this possible tweeted,
“Proud. !! !! !! is an understatement. 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 and numbers don’t lie. (LeBron James)
“We are not defined by mediocrity. Everything we do, even the smallest thing, we make sure we put our all in it. We give 150% and just because we had a successful growth, we are still looking at how we can dig deeper. We are still not satisfied.” Keith Leichty, Akron Public Schools.