LeBron James’ King for Kids Bikeathon is changing gears.
Beginning next month, James’ annual bike ride through Akron’s streets will be renamed Wheels for Education and will focus on 360 children entering third grade in Akron Public Schools.
The program will concentrate on students who come from single-parent homes, as James did. It will begin with a two-week educational camp that offers extensive reading intervention and technology classes to help students reach current academic standards.
After completing the camp, the students will receive an HP laptop, a Nike backpack filled with school supplies and a bicycle from Wheels for Education.
The two-week camp kicks off Aug. 8 with James leading a 2.6-mile ride through Akron’s streets, similar to the old Bikeathon that began in 2005. Only this time, James will be accompanied by 20 high school students who will serve as his ambassadors. They will pedal from InfoCision Stadium at the University of Akron to East High School, where they will be greeted by the 360 children who have already been selected for the first year of the program.
“We felt it was time to change the Bikeathon to something that could be more educational at the same time,” James told the Beacon Journal on Tuesday. “We feel great about it.”
James is in town this week for his basketball Skills Academy at the University of Akron.
He said he began moving the Bikeathon in this direction after the success of State Farm’s 26 Seconds campaign this year. James was also affiliated with that initiative, which is geared toward keeping kids in school and is titled after the fact that a student drops out of high school every 26 seconds.
“When I decided to do the Bikeathon, I always believed there was an educational aspect to it,” James said. “It was taking the kids and giving them an opportunity to be part of a program, and you could always look forward to being part of the Bikeathon every year. We’re looking forward to giving these kids some great things.”
The two-week educational program will use 27 buildings and will be taught primarily by public school teachers, said Desiree Bolden, manager of extended learning for Akron Public Schools.
James’ high school ambassadors were all in the Akron Urban League and After School Program as children. They will serve as mentors to the children in the new educational program.
“These kids in high school now were once in the shoes of these kids in the third grade,” James said. “They know what these kids are going through, so it was easy to choose those guys.”
The LeBron James Family Foundation targeted children entering third grade for the new initiative based on a study edited by Harvard, which indicated academic success in third grade is a life predictor.
The 360 students roughly equal the 350 or so students who were involved with the Bikeathon every year. They represent about 17 percent of the 2,180 students enrolled in third grade next school year in Akron schools, Bolden said. The Wheels for Education program is a follow-up to the 1,000 computers James donated last fall to Akron’s After School Program.
“LeBron’s focus is to help the Akron community, the neighborhoods he grew up in and the kids like him,” Bolden said. “Akron’s After School Program is a natural fit.”
The children selected for the program will be monitored by James’ foundation throughout their high school years. Students who do well academically and maintain good attendance could receive a recorded message from James or get the opportunity to Skype with him on the laptops provided.
While expansion is a possibility for the future, James is currently focused on keeping this strictly in Akron. The city, which played a big role in the Bikeathon, will remain involved with the new program.
“I’ve had the pleasure of watching LeBron grow as a player and mature as a philanthropist,” Akron Mayor Don Plusquellic said in a prepared statement. “His new commitment to the Akron After-School Program is an investment that will pay dividends for years to come because there is no investment more important than in the children whose circumstances he knows so well.”
Attendance at James’ Bikeathon slipped last season, weeks after he chose to sign with the Miami Heat after spending his first seven seasons in the NBA in Cleveland. Although James has been criticized by parts of Akron for leaving Northeast Ohio, he remains committed to assisting the kids in the community.
“A few people here criticizing me is not going to stop me from doing the things I feel need done in this city,” James said. “I was an underprivileged kid. I was an inner-city kid not too long ago. I understand what’s going through a lot of those kids’ minds. For all of us to come together and create awareness for the kids on how important education is, that’s more important to me than anything.”
Jason Lloyd can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Cavs blog at http://www.cavs.ohio.com. Follow the Cavs on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/ABJCavsInsider.