N.J. High School Principal Akbar Cook Opens School’s Doors Every Friday to Keep Students Off the Streets and Out of Trouble

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A principal in Newark, New Jersey, has made it his mission to keep students safe and out of trouble by keeping his school open late, providing them a place of a refuge from the violence that lurks outside his doors.

Lights on Program
The Lights On Program in Newark offers students a safe space from the violence in their community. (ABC 7 / video screenshot)

On Friday, hundreds of youths packed the halls of West Side High School because it’s a place where they feel safe and can just have fun, according to New York’s ABC 7. It’s all a part of the Lights On Program, launched by Principal Akbar Cook.

The program is currently in its fourth year and is open to everyone in the community. In the summertime, the program is held three nights a week and even provides students with hot meals.

“I haven’t lost any more kids to gun violence since the start of the school year,” Cook told the station, saying the results simply can’t be ignored.

Inside the school every Friday night, until 11 p.m., students can shoot pool, play video games, shoot hoops or practice cheer routines. There is even a recording studio where aspiring musicians can lay down tracks.

Many would think school is the last place students would want to be after hours, but the Lights On program gives students something they wouldn’t have if they were out roaming the streets instead.

“Security,” one student said.

“On the street it’s dangerous, people get killed; you could be killed walking home, gunshots everywhere,” another teen told the station.

One girl said she simply enjoys seeing the “friendly faces” of the other students.

West Side alum Nadia Camacho said she wishes the program had been around when she was still in school, as it would’ve prevented a lot of senseless deaths.

“If it was around back then, I think that we wouldn’t have lost so many of my classmates,” said Camacho, who graduated in 2008. “If we had a class reunion right now a lot of my classmates wouldn’t be here due to the gun violence.”

Principal Cook made headlines last summer when he installed a free laundry room at the school after his students were being bullied over their dirty clothes, which resulted in chronic absenteeism. Since providing his students a place to clean their clothes, Cook said daily attendance at the school has increased 10 percent.

Thanks to donations from the community and alumni,  the Lights On program has been able to thrive year after year.

“It’s fun. Safe, too,” one student said. “It’s better than being out on the streets.”

Watch more in the video below.

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