AKRON, Ohio — For those who are curious to look behind the curtain at the I Promise School in Akron, today is the first opportunity to view all 15 gritty and painfully honest episodes of the “I Promise” documentary on the new Quibi platform.
These episodes have dropping one at a time since April 6, the day that Quibi – a unique mobile-first media platform – first rolled out to the public.
These are mini-movies, none longer than 9 minutes, that examine what transpired during the inaugural 2018-2019 school year at the I Promise School, a partnership between Akron Public Schools and the LeBron James Family Foundation.
There are student meltdowns captured on camera.
Children sharing raw stories of hunger and poverty, of being eyewitnesses to violence – and as a result finding it impossible to stay focused on lessons during the school day.
There are kids fighting, being disruptive, and self-harming.
And even teachers crying about how they feel unequipped to cope with what goes on in their classrooms.
All 15 episodes, taken together, convey the strong message that the I Promise School’s mission of educating low-performing students is a marathon and not a sprint.
Students who attend the school are usually at least a grade level behind in their academic performance. The documentary makes it clear that catching up is not an easy task for them.
You meet a student named Vince remembering how he lost he felt when he arrived on the first day: “I was like, ‘I ain’t doing this. I’m leaving right now -- bye!’ They made me stay. I tried to get out of there, I freaked out…. My tears were dripping, it was like a pool of water.”
Vince’s teacher, Stephanie Arnett, said in a WKYC interview that watching the episodes on Quibi with her family helped her realize how time and patience have brought along a big change in Vince and plenty of her other students too.
“Last year was hard, it was totally outside my comfort zone,” she said. “It wasn’t glitz and glamour … I had kids slamming the door and screaming. Every teacher at I Promise School had their share of those moments."
She added that it's what you can expect, "any time you take kids who are high risk and low academic ability and put it all together."
And as the 15 episodes unfold you begin to see the wins piling up for the I Promise School. Student performance begins to improve, behavior problems start to recede.
Arnett, who has continued to teach Vince via computer since the COVID-19 shutdown, says she's seen not only academic growth in him during the two years she's been his teacher but also many encouraging improvements in his behavior.
The documentary’s executive producer, LeBron James, can relate to it all. “When you grow up in the innercity, you grow up in the projects, no one cares about you,” James said pensively, during an interview at the school. “So many kids like myself have dreams and the only thing to stop those dreams from becoming a reality is the support around them.”
James goes on to say, “It’s not instant oatmeal we’re creating here… we’re OK dealing with the process.” To that end, the I Promise School offers a host of programs to care for the social and emotional well being of students and their families.
As the documentary spells out, the I Promise School partners are in it for the long haul.