In our work at STC, we are fortunate to see students hit all kinds of milestones: The first time they build something in Scratch, or visit their school’s makerspace; the moment they realize knowledge they gained through a real-world learning experience could solve a problem in their community; the experience they have on a site visit to a workplace, during an externship, or in a mock interview that gets them thinking big about possibilities for their future after high school. Given that STC’s work supports students in grades K-12, we get to see them use real-world learning as building blocks. Recently, in Newark, we got to experience one of our favorite milestones with a student: Yasha Turnage, a West Side High graduate from Newark who participated in STC Newark’s Advanced Manufacturing program (part of STC’s Career Pathway programming that aligns to Career & Technical Education standards), got a job at ZaGo Manufacturing.

“I got my job at ZaGo Manufacturing through One Stop and Schools That Can,” Yasha told STC Newark’s Manager of Career Skills, Ashaki Goodall. While working at One Stop, Yasha was approached by the STC team to see if she was interested in a possible work opportunity at ZaGo. Yasha was, so STC set up a site tour for her, giving her a chance to talk with Jackie Luciano, Vice-President at ZaGo Manufacturing. “It was an exciting experience,” Yasha said of the interview. “I thought it was going to be like a warehouse type of thing and then it turned out to be some place that is really special for people all over the world.”

ZaGo is a manufacturer of high-quality screws, sealing screws, and sealing nuts, among other parts, and Yasha pointed out that we often don’t realize how crucial screws are to certain things, explaining that ZaGo makes types of screws that go into prosthetic legs. “And anything that has to do with water, the screws help make sure the water doesn’t go through that hole,” she continued. “I am getting a lot of different experiences and I am still learning about the screws made at ZaGo.” After an interview with the owner, Harvey Rottenstrich, he asked Yasha to start the next day. 

“I remember everything that happened at West Side,” said Yasha of her time in high school, including STC’s Advanced Manufacturing program. “In the advanced manufacturing class when it was time to get to work, there were expectations. I think the best time is when we started building stuff.” Students worked together as teams to complete projects, including meeting required deadlines, seeking out clarification on task items you didn’t understand, and taking what they were learning together seriously. In her conversation with Ashaki, Yasha mentioned that she and classmates knew there was an expectation that they pursue a career after college, not just a job.

Among other projects, during her time in Advanced Manufacturing, Yasha built a rollercoaster (which she mentioned West Side still has) and made a logo using a 3D printer. Because of her previous experience in manufacturing and her experience with OneStop, Yasha was ready to embrace a big career opportunity when it came her way, excelling not just in hands-on skills, but also the interview process. 

While Yasha is excited for her benefits and vacation days to come through, she said she’s most excited about “me still being at ZaGo and being able to train other people in the future.” Right now, she’s learning how to use the tools, and developing relationships with her coworkers. “Everybody was so friendly,” Yasha said of her first week on the job. “Everybody came up to me giving me high-fives or just checking on me.”

Yasha’s success has sparked an inspirational effect, too. When she first started, she recorded what she was doing, and posted it to her Instagram story. 12th graders currently in Advanced Manufacturing replied, asking what she was doing. “I was telling them how what I am doing is important,” Yasha said of her friends and family. “These screws I am making are important.”

“I would tell them to work hard,” Yasha said of advice she would give to other students. “And if you have an opportunity given to you, then take it.” Yasha explained that if an opportunity is given to you, even if it comes quickly (Yasha just graduated in May 2019), take it. “If you don’t, you might not know what you will be doing after high school.” As it stands now, Yasha’s real-world learning experience in high school connected her directly to a career path that’s fulfilling, allows her to support herself, and makes use of the skills she built during her education. Schools That Can is so proud of what Yasha has achieved, and we look forward to continuing to make opportunities like this possible for many students in the future.