EAST ORANGE, NJ — The Essex County Prosecutor’s Office of Newark isn’t just about arresting and prosecuting the bad guys. The Prosecutor’s Office has paired up with NJIT Athletics to create a program for youth called Highlander Star Students, which began in September with East Orange schools participating in the program.
According to a list given to the Record-Transcript on Friday, Jan. 10, by Deputy Chief Assistant Prosecutor Ahmad Rasool, who was involved in the beginning stages of the program and is running it for the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office, those East Orange schools include Banneker Academy, Future Ready Prep, Jackson Academy, Sojourner Truth Middle School, Houston Academy, Warwick Institute, Bowser School of Excellence, Gordon Parks Academy, Garvin School, Langston Hughes Elementary School, STEM Academy, George Washington Carver Institute, Ecole Toussaint Louverture, Cicely Tyson Elementary School and Cicely Tyson Middle School.
Quickly becoming wildly popular throughout New Jersey, Highlander Star Students has been adopted by many schools in the Essex County area. When the program started in September, 16 schools were involved. By December, 70 schools in total were participating in the program, said Rasool via phone interview on Thursday, Jan. 9.
The schools participating in the program each choose one student per month to represent their school at an NJIT Athletics home sporting event, according to a press release NJIT released on Friday, Nov. 22. The Highlander Star Student recipients are invited to attend an event with their families, friends and teachers to recognize their achievements both inside and outside the classroom, by being honored among all of Highlander fans attending the event. After being honored at the sporting event, the chosen student receives NJIT memorabilia, such as an NJIT pin, a poster signed by a team, a ticket stub, or another congratulatory keepsake or memento. NJIT switches up the mementos each time, to ensure that the students don’t all get the same things, aside from the NJIT pin, said NJIT Athletics Business and Ticket Manager Joseph Vacca on Friday, Jan. 10.
Rasool, who is running the program along with Vacca and Essex County Prosecutor’s Office’s legal assistant Kecia Richardson-Gilbert, said the mission is to honor those who are doing tremendous things in the community.
“My hopes are just to paint the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office in a better light … and show that we care and that we’re doing things to honor those who do tremendous things within the community,” Rasool said. “We’re also trying to expand and have as many schools participate as possible. This will also give NJIT a chance to build their fan base.”
According to Rasool, this program will aid both the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office and NJIT Athletics. It also gives students an incentive to do well in school and not participate in criminal activity.
“We’re not here to lock people up,” Rasool said. “We’re here to reward those who are doing well.”
NJIT Athletics also benefits, said Rasool. The college, a Division I school, receives the opportunity to promote itself better and expand its fan base, as people become more aware of its athletic endeavors. Vacca said this was something they’ve looked forward to very much.
“It’s been great partnering with the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office to recognize our remarkable local youth students for their hard work, both in the classroom and in their respective communities,” Vacca said in a quote sent to the Record-Transcript on Friday, Jan. 10. “This program was something we looked forward to very much make happen, as our youth are the future. To see the program come to fruition and to visualize where it is heading, it speaks volumes to all that are involved in making a difference with our youth.”
NJIT Associate Vice President/Director of Athletics Lenny Kaplan said he’s glad they are able to partner with the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office to grow this program.
“I think it’s important for us to recognize outstanding young students when we can,” said Kaplan in a statement sent to the Record-Transcript on Friday, Jan. 10. “Whether it be for great attitude, good attendance, good citizenship and of course success in the classroom, I am glad we are able to partner with the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office to help start and hopefully grow this program.”
“The ECPO Star Student Night was a dynamic vision,” Richardson-Gilbert said in a quote sent to the Record-Transcript on Monday, Jan. 13. “I believe it gives the students the initiative to strive more and do more at furthering their learning ability. The program touches the hearts of the parents, to see their children gain such an outstanding academic achievement. This partnership with NJIT is just what students need to grow and helps them understand that you can excel at being all you can be with the work of studying hard.
“I say thank you to ECPO and NJIT for helping our students shine,” she added.