NEW JERSEY--Newark Principal Akbar Cook was recently a guest on One-On-One with Steve Adubato, where he discussed the many innovative programs he has instituted at West Side High School in his mission to improve the lives of his students.
West Side High School is located in Newark’s troubled West Ward, one of the most statistically dangerous areas of the city. The school has suffered the death of several students in recent years along with chronic absenteeism and pervasive bullying. Cook has therefore designed programs to specifically combat these issues. “We have to look at the child holistically,” he explained.
His first major innovation came about after he found that many students were absent because they didn’t have clean clothes to wear to school. So Cook installed a laundromat within the school building with several commercial grade washers and dryers to allow students to clean their clothes. Attendance is now up over 10%.
Cook consulted with the Newark police department and learned that crime is most prevalent between the hours of 6 to 11pm. So, he decided to open up West Side High School three nights a week during the summer between those hours, and later added Friday nights during the school year. Students can come and eat, engage in recreation, video games, and have space to “let them be kids,” Cook added. Currently, about 250 students show up for the “Lights On” program each night.
“This is the new normal for urban education,” said Cook. “These kids need us more than ever,” he said. “We’re not only worrying about the negative behavior, but also building up the kid.”
Cook explained that he comes from a family of helpers--educators, foster parents and caregivers. “It’s in my DNA,” he said. “This is what I was put on this earth to do, and I’m glad I’m able to do it in my hometown of Newark, New Jersey,” he added. “If not us, then who?”