Former basketball star finds a way to give back

In late February, Northeast College Prep School paraprofessional Onika Craven invited me to speak to a classroom of fifth graders taught by teacher Kaylena Greenwell.    

Onika Nicole Craven

Craven, who has been employed at the startup charter school since December, accomplished plenty on the basketball court while playing for Minneapolis Washburn in the late 1990s. Today, she’s using her position at the K-5 school to promote an initiative she calls, “Sharing your Gifts, Expanding our Minds.”

The initiative, which I unknowingly but proudly became a part of, allowed Craven to bring in people from the Twin Cities community to share their experiences and challenges with students.

Sharing experiences as a social studies teacher and photojournalist was the purpose of my visit. However, I learned more about Northeast College Prep than was anticipated.

It started as a K-3 in 2014. A grade has been added each year since, with sixth grade coming in the fall of 2017. Assistant Principal Erika Sass says that Northeast College Prep offers more than the IB program that all students participate in.

“We also focus on social, emotional and talent development,” she said. “We want to help students find their passion and connect it with existing programs. We want them to learn and have fun.”

According to Craven, Sass’ statement aligns with her initiative.

“We simply want to connect students with community people and realize they have options,” she said. “We have talented people in the Twin Cities that can inspire our youth.”

Twin Cities Black Film Festival founder and CEO Natalie Morrow; former Holy Angels, Boston College and NBA basketball player Troy Bell; KMOJ Radio personality Shed G; and recent Florida State University women’s soccer signee Adrienne Richardson — who also played with the U17 Women’s National Team (WNT) World Cup — are among those who have shared their experiences with Northeast College Prep students.

According to Craven, the initiative, which she says was immediately embraced by Northeast College Prep founder and director Carl Phillips, has had quite an impact on the students. Just listen to fifth-grader Azhar Ahmed as she talked about her talents, aspirations and goals:

“Math is my favorite subject because it’s easy for me,” she said before giving an honest interpretation of recess. “Recess is nice because you get fresh air [and] you don’t have to learn,” she continued with a smile before putting everything in perspective. “I want to be a doctor. I am going to Harvard University.”

Said Craven upon learning about the future doctor’s quote, “That’s what it’s all about.”


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