Immigrant taps success

Milla Wong measures the displacement of an engine cylinder at the School District 51 Career Center, where she is enrolled in the sports vehicle repair program. Wong, who emigrated from China six years ago, knowing little English, has scored at the highest level in the Work Keys workforce preparation testing program.

Photos by DEAN HUMPHREY/The Daily Sentinel— Milla Wong, shown using a precision measuring instrument, said she hopes to enhance her mechanical skill with training in the military.

Milla Wong wanted to challenge herself.

A year ago, she began taking Work Keys tests, a set of three workforce preparation tests that evaluate a person’s reading comprehension, math problem-solving skills and research abilities to see how well-prepared the person would be to train for a variety of jobs. Wong earned platinum-level scores on the reading and math tests, meaning she earned a score of 87 percent or better on each test, but felt she could do better on the research section.

On the seventh or eighth try three weeks ago, she got a platinum-level score on that test as well, making her the first Grand Junction High School and Career Center student to earn platinum certification on all three tests. Only two other District 51 students — one from R-5 High and one from Fruita Monument High School — have reached platinum level since the category was introduced in 2009 and just 1 percent of the people of all ages who take Work Keys tests ever earn platinum certification.

Wong, 17, said she simply wanted to see for herself if she could reach platinum level.

“It says I’m a hard worker and I know what I’m doing,” she said. “I hope to motivate other students to take it, too. I think there would be more (platinum scores) if people could motivate themselves to do it.”

It hasn’t been an easy road for Wong to reach this level. She came to Mesa County six years ago from China. The only English she knew was the alphabet and a few basic terms. She gradually learned English through the district’s English as a Second Language program and is one of only four girls in the Career Center’s sport vehicle repair program.

Her teacher in the repair course, Jim Pittsenbarger, said some students never get a bronze score on the Work Keys tests, let alone a silver, gold or platinum. All Career Center students take the tests but can stop after silver or gold level but he was proud to see Wong reach for more.

“She’s got a really good heart and a really good work ethic. I’m honored she’s a student” here, Pittsenbarger said.

The platinum level means a test-taker has the skills to train for 99 percent of jobs because they have a keen ability to follow directions, solve problems and perform other skills. Wong said she plans to use her skills to enter the military and go into a mechanic-related field such as helicopter repair.


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