New Jersey high school opens every Friday night to keep students off streets

NEWARK, New Jersey -- A school full of kids on a Friday night is all a part of one man's mission to keep students at a Newark high school off the streets and out of trouble.

It's called the 'Lights On' program, which is now in its fourth year and is open to everyone.

Many would think it's the last place students would want to be, but they are there to avoid what lurks outside of the school.

"Anything that keeps me off the streets I'll do," one student said. "Selling drugs and stuff, I'm not into that."

Hundreds of students packed the halls of West Side High School on Friday night because it's a space free of fear.

"I just realized that if I come here, I'll see friendly faces," another student said.

Ever Friday night until 11 p.m., students can shoot pool, play video games and basketball, practice cheers or even record music in a recording studio.

Nadia Camacho graduated high school in 2008 and said if this program was around back then, she wouldn't have lost so many of her classmates.

"If we had a class reunion right now, a lot of my classmates wouldn't be here due to gun violence," she said.

The high school's principal Akbar Cook said the results of the program can't be ignored.

"I haven't lost any more kids to gun violence since the start of the school year," said Cook.

Last summer, Cook installed a free laundry room inside the school after his students were bullied because of dirty clothes which resulted in chronic absenteeism.

Cook said there's been a 10 percent increase in daily attendance since he opened the laundry room.

"I was finding out just from being a principal that the kids don't eat during the weekends," Cook said.

The school also serves hot meals to the students on Friday nights.

During the summer, the program is held three nights a week. It's all made possible by donations from the community and alumni.

"It's fun, safe too. It's better than being out on the streets," one student said.

"On the street it's dangerous, people get killed, you could be killed walking home, gunshots everywhere," one student said.
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