One principal has taken it upon himself to put an end to gun violence in his community by keeping school doors open on Friday nights.
West Side High School Principal Akbar Cook is dedicated to his students. For four years, Cook opened school doors for students on Fridays to keep them away from dangerous situations, drugs and gun violence. The "Lights On" program is believed to be saving Newark's future.
ABC 7 News reports students are free to play basketball, cheer, play pool and video games in the program. They can also record music in a built-in studio.
“I haven’t lost any more kids to gun violence since the start of the school year,” he told ABC 7.
Every Friday between 6 and 11 p.m., Cook's students have a safe, gun-free space.
“Anything that keeps me off the streets I’ll do,” a student told the outlet. “Selling drugs and stuff, I’m not into that.”
“It’s fun, safe too. It’s better than being out on the streets,” another student said.
The educator gained national attention for launching a laundry program at school last year, as Blavity previously reported.
When he opened the laundry room, he wanted to curb absenteeism for students who were unable to have clean clothes due to family circumstances. The idea was a success.
Students are free to use laundry supplies during multiple hours of the day. Cook told ABC 7 there has been a 10% decrease in chronic absenteeism since the program launched.
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"Lights On" is also helping students during the summer. According to CBS New York, students can come to school and use the facilities three nights out of the week. In addition to providing a safe space, the program also feeds students a warm meal.
"I was finding out just from being a principal that the kids don't eat during the weekends," Cook told ABC 7.
The two programs take into account the students' lives outside of school.
"My babies are taking care of their younger siblings," Cook said in an interview with CBS last month. "Their parents are either working hard and kind of taking these odd jobs, or the parents are not there at all.”
Cook said the programs were possible due to donations from the community and alumni.
Due to his tireless commitment to his students, the nationally recognized educator has appeared on the Ellen show and inspired other schools to take similar steps to improve their learning environments.
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