West Side High School Expands Nighttime Summer Recreation Program with Goal to Keep Young People Engaged in Positive Activities at Night

Nearly 300 students turn out for The “Lights On” program with Expanded Programs for Girls

[Newark, NJ — July 25, 2017] – Nearly 300 Newark youth turned out for the “Lights On” program, a free nighttime recreational program open to children across Newark, this past Friday. In its second year, the program offers more recreational activities for girls and teens. “Lights On” kicked off its summer schedule on Friday, June 30 at West Side High School (WSHS) in Newark and this past Friday featured a disc jockey and ice cream truck, in addition to the regular “Lights On” programming. The program provides Newark youth with access to a wide-range of engaging activities such as basketball, table tennis, cooking, dancing, and more.

WSHS Vice Principal and program director Akbar Cook, with the support of the West Side Alumni Group and the MCJ Amelior Foundation, started the “Lights On” program in 2016, serving approximately 80 students per night throughout the summer. On the final night of last summer’s program, Mr. Cook lost another female student to gun violence. The student’s death inspired Mr. Cook to give more students access to positive afterschool activities like “Lights On.” Mr. Cook decided to broaden the appeal of the program to young women across the city by offering more recreational activities such as jewelry making and makeup classes.

“Thanks to the continued investment of Vice Principal Cook, the West Side Alumni Group, and the MCJ Amelior Foundation, students and families across our city are able to come together throughout the summer and enjoy a multitude of fun-filled activities at the ‘Lights On’ program,” said Christopher D. Cerf, Superintendent of Newark Public Schools (NPS). “Programs like ‘Lights On’ create a strong future for Newark by serving the needs of all students and families, as well as ensuring all children have access to positive opportunities both inside and outside of the classroom.”

“‘Lights On’ is thrilled to open up new and exciting opportunities for more young women across our city this year,” said Mr. Cook. “We want to do more for our young women across Newark to ensure they have a variety of engaging activities and are able to enjoy their summer vacation in a nurturing, fun and safe environment.”

“Lights On” is open at West Side High School throughout the school year every Friday evening for both children and adults. Throughout the summer, the program runs from 6:00pm-11:00pm, every Monday, Wednesday and Friday night. The program also provides participants with free food and beverages every night.

A student of the program said, “The ‘Lights On’ program helps me build confidence and it’s a safe and welcoming place for me to go. I hope more kids will come and a part of something positive.”

Mr. Cook, who manages school operations related to disciplinary procedures, school climate and culture, and security at WSHS, is leading a number of initiatives at WSHS and across the district. He is the head coach of the WSHS varsity boys’ basketball team, which won the 2017 Group 2 NJSIAA championships. Mr. Cook also partnered with the Community Food Bank of NJ to provide food packs every Friday night to students and families in need on weekends. Mr. Cook is also working to build a laundromat and study hall at WSHS to increase student attendance and support student achievement because many students do not attend school regularly because they do not have clean clothes. Earlier this year, Cook was selected as a finalist for Prudential’s “Newark’s Cornerstones” competition, a contest which showcases leaders across Newark for their dedication in making a positive impact on Newark’s future.

For additional information about “Lights On,” watch the program’s commercials from 2016 and 2017.