In grade school, most of us couldn’t wait until the final bell rang that signaled our freedom for the weekend. However, this isn’t the case for every student. In some areas, the end of the school week means being thrust into the dangers of the outside world with no one keeping a watchful eye. That’s why one high school principal in Newark, New Jersey started a program to offer his students a safe place to be after school hours.
Every Friday night, the halls of New Jersey’s West Side High School are packed with students as part of an initiative to keep them off the streets and out of trouble.
The Lights On Program, now in its fourth year, was developed by Principal Akbar Cook who felt students needed the option of a safe space to hang out in the evenings. Outside of the school, the streets of Newark are ridden with violence and crime, but inside students can exist worry-free.
On Fridays until 11 pm, kids can play pool, video games, basketball, practice cheers, and even record music in an on-campus studio.
Students are grateful for a safe reprieve from the outside world.
“Anything that keeps me off the streets I’ll do,” one student said. “Selling drugs and stuff, I’m not into that.”
“I just realized that if I come here I’ll see friendly faces,” another student said.
Nadia Camacho, an alumna of West Side High, is impressed with the program and wishes it had been around sooner.
“If it was around back then, I think that we wouldn’t have lost so many of my classmates,” Camacho said. “If we had a class reunion right now a lot of my classmates wouldn’t be here due to gun violence.”
Principal Cook says the program has undeniably saved the lives of his students.
“I haven’t lost any more kids to gun violence since the start of the school year,” Cook said.
The school also serves hot meals to students on Friday nights.
“I was finding out just from being a principal that the kids don’t eat during the weekends,” Cook said.
During the summer, the program is held three nights a week and is all made possible by community donations and volunteers.
“It’s fun, safe too. It’s better than being out on the streets,” one student said.
Since its humble beginnings, Lights On has served more than 20,000 kids and provided more than 600 hours of life-saving safe activities.
Find out more about Lights On and how you can do your part to help HERE.