Akron Public Schools is like many public urban school districts in the country—lacking funding to achieve performance goals that need investments in technology. With Ohio’s Race to the Top goal to “reduce performance gaps by 50 percent in reading,” the LeBron James Family Foundation (LJFF) and its Wheels for Education program, started by Akron native and Miami Heat NBA star LeBron James, has given Akron Public Schools one of the largest e-library sites in the country.
Completely online, the e-library can be accessed by any Akron student, from elementary to high school, each with his or her own log in information. On March 28, the Akron Beacon Journal reported that “The third-graders, as in every elementary building in Akron Public Schools, are patrons of the nation’s most expansive e-library… With more than 3,400 books available, teachers can expand the library by simply requesting new titles.”
Wheels for Education has committed to providing a lifetime supply of books—in addition to the $100,000 of books already donated. (The spending of the $100,000 can be broken down into both multi-use licenses cost for each ebook and textbook purchases.)
According to LJFF executive director Michele Campbell, they will “continue to take a new class of Akron kids every year, [because] we want to concentrate our efforts on changing graduation rates in Akron.”
The e-library is possible because of a partnership between LJFF and Sebco Books, a south Florida–based national book distribution company that was “impressed with [LeBron’s] commitment to education,” according to Campbell. (Sebco is, in turn, in partnership with ABDO Publishing, a popular school and children’s book publisher for this venture.)
Danny Comer, owner and vice-president of Sebco, says his company had originally donated print books but an e-library “logistically makes more sense.” Comer explains that ABDO provides their titles and Sebco “hosts” the ebook files on their server, thus serving as the library administration for Akron Public Schools. (Comer says that Sebco and ABDO are educational, not retail, operations.) They sell their titles with a multi-user license, allowing for an unlimited number of copies of a book to be “checked out” when needed. It is a feature that comes in handy when multiple students in the same class have a project on the same topic.
The e-library is enhanced by the LJFF donation of approximately 1,300 Hewlett-Packard laptops and desktops and 700 Samsung tablets, portioned out to every school in the district. Desiree Bolden, manager of Extended Learning at Akron Public Schools, noted that the school district also pitched in and “provided Chromebooks…to all buildings.”
Bolden explains that the technology donation has an added bonus, because it does not just enhance e-library access but rather also allows access to “online assessments, curriculum, tests… everything a digital world requires.”
The decision to transition to an e-library was a logical one, because “[Akron] students are ‘digital natives.’ Technology to them is like breathing,” Bolden says and adds that classrooms are now a hybrid of “using paper, pencil, tablets open, powerpoints on desktops, tubs of paper books, all in rotation.”
Bolden says “the program is still new” but that Akron Public Schools and LJFF are “determined that [students] will have access” to whatever they need in order to succeed. A donated e-library certainly is a large step in that direction.
Mythili Sampathkumar is a UN reporter and freelance journalist based in NYC and loves visiting old libraries and used book stores in every city she travels. Follow her on Twitter @RestlessRani.