5 Lessons from Lebron James’s I Promise (IPS) School

New public school model yields positive academic gains.

Posted May 31, 2019

Education is the most powerful weapon we can use to change the world.

—Nelson Mandela

LeBron James, the American basketball player, grew up in Akron, Ohio, and never forgot his humble roots and early-life challenges. With a desire to give back, James used his star power (and deep pockets) to partner with Akron Public Schools and create an innovative school, which serves at-risk students called I Promise (IPS). Only in its first year, the students of IPS are already demonstrating positive academic gains per MAPS (measures of academic progress), which is encouraging and perhaps a sign that this brand-new type of school is something we can all learn from.

5 Lessons from I Promise School

1. EQ first, IQ second.

Research reveals when children feel good, they do better. This isn’t rocket science, but by making the feelings of children central and creating a well-being centered school I Promise is helping children feel better first. Formally, they’re learning how to regulate their emotions, develop self-awareness and cooperate with others as part of the curriculum. They even have technology-free locations to decompress, a relaxing garden and a mindfulness meeting to start every day.

2. Inspiration is everywhere.

“We are reigniting dreams that were extinguished—already in third and fourth grade,” explained Brandi Davis, principal of IPS per NYTimes. Lebron James’ story is woven throughout the fabric of IPS and serves as a constant source of inspiration to these third and fourth graders (more grades added yearly till 2022). James message of transforming his “lemons” to lemonade is everywhere—on the walls, video messages, and letters he writes students. Imagine if your elementary school foyer had a wall of 114 game-worn Lebron James sneakers to inspire you to give your best?

3. School isn’t simply for the kids.

Principal Davis explained, “We are letting people know it is about true wrap-around support, true family integration and true compassion” per USA Today. IPS’s focus on helping parents extends from helping them acquire GED’s and complete ESL classes to giving them free access to a shame-free resource room (food pantry, clothing, supplies) to other services like childcare or access to a hair salon. Research shows that parental stress and dysfunction can impair a child’s ability to learn, which is what this resource center alleviates

4. Community counts.

“We Are Family” is the motto of IPS where students hear the song being played on the speaker system, and see it painted on the wall. But mom Nickole Wyatt explained it is more than a simple slogan: “It took me coming here to realize what family even is," Wyatt said to The New York Times. IPS provides students and their parents with support so they feel secure, safe and cared for—like an ideal family does, from free student breakfasts, uniforms and bicycles with helmets, to including parents in school events, adding to the culture of inclusion. 

5. Remove roadblocks (learning or otherwise).

Every child learns in a different way, which is what creates conflict if a school or teacher has a “cookie cutter” approach. Kafui Amissah, father of a third-grader said to Fatherly, “She wants to learn and play at the same time. Here, they do that. She’s doing a lot better." IPS aims to help all students succeed, especially the ones with learning differences or emotional baggage. Other roadblocks removed for parents are the need for after-care (school is 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.) with an extended school year, free summer camps, and the promise of paid college tuition for all graduates (at the University of Akron).


CNN (August 4, 2018). Lebron James opens elementary school, guarantees college tuition to graduates by Ursula Perano and Nadeem Muaddi. https://www.cnn.com/2018/08/04/us/lebron-james-opens-school-trnd/index.html

USA Today (2019). Students at Lebron James' I Promise School generating 'extraordinary' results by Jeff Zillgitt. https://www.usatoday.com/story/sports/nba/2019/04/12/students-lebron-james-school-generating-extraordinary-results/3446561002/

New York Times (April 12, 2019). LeBron James Opened a School That Was Considered an Experiment. It's Showing Promise by Erica L. Green.  https://www.nytimes.com/2019/04/12/education/lebron-james-school-ohio.html

Fatherly (Sep 27, 2018). Inside Lebron James's I Promise School, an Experiment in Parent-Friendly Education by Patrick A. Coleman. https://www.fatherly.com/love-money/lebron-james-i-promise-school-cool-dad/

The Atlantic (Aug 24, 2018). 5 Reasons LeBron James's School Really is Unique by Alia Wong. https://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2018/08/lebron-james-school-unique/568243/