After LeBron James read the Dr. Seuss classic Oh, the Places You'll Go! to more than 300 eager Akron third-graders Wednesday, he asked them what they thought the story meant.
''What does this symbolize in life or everyday challenges? What is it telling you?'' the NBA star asked.
The kids seated on the gym floor at Mason elementary school, who had scooted as close as they could to James while he read, responded: You can't win every time. If you wait around too long, your opportunity might be lost. You can't get mad when you lose; it's just a game. Be yourself. Never give up. Believe in yourself.
''I like everyone's answers,'' James told the children.
James returned to his hometown to remind the third-graders the first class of his foundation's new Wheels for Education program that he's sticking by them until they graduate from high school in 2021.
That commitment began this summer, when the LeBron James Family Foundation and State Farm Insurance transformed his annual bike-athon into a more substantial investment in education.
School officials selected 342 third-graders from across the district who already are getting extra help with reading and math to participate in Wheels for Education within the district's nationally recognized Akron After School program.
''This summer 342 children received bikes, helmets, laptops and Nike backpacks with school supplies,'' said Desiree Bolden, manager of the after-school program. ''LeBron and his foundation have committed to following those kids through graduation. What that looks like is being developed as we move through, but today was one of those events of showing the commitment of LeBron and the foundation to these kids.''
The third-graders also attended a two-week technology camp to familiarize themselves with the new laptop computers.
Last fall, the LeBron James Family Foundation gave Akron Public Schools 1,000 computers for students to use both during classes and in the after-school program.
That contribution, combined with Wheels for Education, brings the total investment so far to about $1.2 million, Bolden said.
Next year, the foundation will support a new crew of third-graders and follow them through high school graduation.
''The level of commitment is very authentic,'' Bolden said.
In exchange, the students make a promise to James that they will go to school, do all of their schoolwork, listen to their teachers, try their best, help and respect others, eat right and stay active, have fun and finish school.
And if they don't?
Well, James has some taped phone messages cued up and ready to send.
''Through our robocall system, he has messages ready to go out to the kids saying, 'Hey, I heard you missed some school, you need to get back on track.' or 'Keep up the reading,' '' Bolden said.
James also helped with a robocall to help pass a 5.5-mill levy last month, which lost in a squeaker so close that election officials are doing a recount.
''If I have an opportunity to voice an opinion, like the levy, or to do something like this with these kids, I'm all for it,'' James said. ''I know how important it was for me as a kid. Sports changed my life. The mentors and the teachers that I had changed my life.''
James attended Harris elementary school when he was in third grade.
''You looked forward to going to school every day to see your friends,'' he said. ''You also looked forward every day to seeing your teachers and the people who were trying to help you pass the test on Friday.''
He said he's concerned about cuts to public education.
''We're trying to control what we can and that's getting to these kids young [and] early enough, and let them know how important it is to listen to their teachers and staying in school and learning each day,'' James said.
John Higgins can be reached at 330-996-3792 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the education blog at http://education.ohio.com/.