Feature Stories

Tonka Prep at Minnetonka High School Celebrates its First Year

Minnetonka High School is a school of opportunities where students are encouraged and supported academically, socially and emotionally as they pursue their goals and aspirations. This school year, Tonka Prep launched as a new program to support that mission by increasing staff support and community connection for our underrepresented students of color. 

“Tonka Prep was created so that we can help break down barriers and open doors to develop leaders, teach invaluable life skills and prepare students for college, careers and beyond,” said Jeff Erickson, Principal at MHS. Tonka Prep is a college preparatory and mentorship program.

Careino Gurley, Academic and Student Support Coordinator at MHS, has developed and led the program this year. In 2021-22, the program served 30 students across grades 9-12. 

“Careino has helped teachers grow in the area of cultural competence and learn how to establish deeper connections with students of color. He is developing comprehensive programs that meet the needs and harness the strengths of students so that they may thrive at Minnetonka High School and beyond,” said Jennifer Smasal, Assistant Principal at MHS.

As part of Tonka Prep, students participated in themed days to structure each week. “Map it Out Mondays” gave them the opportunity to look at the week ahead and make a structured academic and personal plan to meet their goals. On “Team it Up Tuesdays,” students met with their teachers to discuss progress in their classes and ideas for continued improvement. During “We Got This Wednesdays,” students created plans specifically for Minnetonka Academic Support Time (MAST) to ensure they were able to make the most of those opportunities to receive extra support and teacher connection. “Tell it to a Parent Thursdays” encouraged students to set aside time to connect with their family members to discuss positive aspects of the week and how they were working on objectives to meet their goals. “Finish it Fridays” provided an opportunity to review the week’s progress and make a plan to best utilize the weekend for any remaining tasks or activities. “I Was Successful Saturdays” and “It Was Worth the Sacrifice Sundays” gave students resources to enjoy their rest and be inspired by motivational quotes as they prepared for the next week. 

In addition to the themed weekly structure, students took the StrengthsFinder personal assessment and were coached through their results by local community leaders. Tonka Prep hosted guest lectures on college readiness and life skills, and students took part in community building events like attending a Timberwolves game together. Students also visited local colleges and heard from Minnetonka High School programs like VANTAGE, so they could plan ways to maximize their high school courses to meet their future career goals. 

The whole point of Tonka Prep is helping students understand that the work they’re putting in now is really an investment into their futures,” said Gurley. “It can be tough at times, but to know that this will help them further down the line is the key. Helping students look ahead at themselves at age 20, 25, 30, 35, 40 and 65+ is powerful. We ask, what do they want their lives to look like? so they can understand that the work they put in now can help determine that future. They have control over it, they just have to put in the work now.”

Gurley’s favorite part of the program this year has been the camaraderie between the students. “We’ve built relationships between kids who may not have met before. It’s great because in a way, they get to mentor each other as well, with seniors connecting with freshmen. They all seem to be on the same page supporting each other, which has been an awesome sight to see,” he said. 

Next year, Tonka Prep will expand with the addition of another academic and student support staff member to increase the number of students within the program.

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