Southwire American Graduate Champion | American Graduate Champions | PBA30

Ga. Company Helps At-Risk Students Stay In School Through Work Program

Shelby Lin Erdman • NOV 10, 2015

Video produced by Dan Gillette

Georgia teenager Grace Weaver was part of a sobering statistic, one of millions of American young people at-risk of dropping out of high school.

In fact, more than five million young people between the ages of 14 and 24 years old are not in school and they are not in the workforce, according to the U.S. Department of Education.

Without a high school diploma, prospects for a good job and a living wage are severely diminished. High school drop-outs face an unemployment rate almost five percent higher than their peers who graduated, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The U.S. Census Bureau also reports high school drop-outs make as much as $10,000 a year less than their graduating counter-parts.

I never really considered school to be a priority until I joined the 12 For Life program.

With such serious consequences for high school drop-outs and, by extension, their families and the communities where they live, Carrolton, Georgia-based Southwire Company, Inc. decided to tackle the problem in 2007 with a new program called 12 For Life.

The president and CEO of Southwire, Stuart Thorn, knows that people without high school degrees are not just facing a rough road individually, but that communities and businesses also suffer from an economic loss and fewer qualified workers.

“12 For Life stands for the idea if you get 12 years of education and you graduate from high school, you’re going to have a better life, and recognizing that, we wanted to create an opportunity within the community for those kids who might not be on a path to graduate from high school to help them graduate because they’d have a better life,” Thorn, an American Graduate Champion, said during a recent interview.

Southwire, the largest maker of aluminum and copper wire, rods, and cable in the United States, started the 12 for Life program by building a school inside one of their factories. Students in the program spend the entire school day at the factory. They spend half the day in the classroom and half the day working at the plant.

“They’re getting paid and getting paid well compared to what they would have otherwise earned after school in a minimum wage kind of job,” Thorn explained. And those in the program are staying in school, as well, he said.

But to get into 12 For Life, students have to be struggling in all areas of their life:  in school, with attendance and with personal finances.

“They have to be really having a difficult time because we wanted to really zero in on those kids who would not otherwise graduate, if not for this program,”

Weaver credits the initiative for helping her stay in school and on track to graduate.

“Being in the program has definitely changed my outlook on school,” she said. “I never really considered school to be a priority until I joined the 12 For Life program.”

Thorn points to statistics showing that the 12 For Life program is working. More than 1,100 students have graduated from the program so far.

“We’ve been able to take the graduation rate for this cohort of kids up from probably what would have been in the neighborhood of five to 15 percent up to now above 85 percent,” Thorn said.

The U.S. Department of Education reports 40 percent of 12 For Life graduates have gone on to post-secondary education, 30 percent have joined the military, and almost 20 percent went to work for Southwire or other companies.

The State of Georgia has even based their Great Promise Partnership, in part, on the 12 For Life model. And other companies and communities have formed similar partnerships, according to the U.S. Department of Education.


PBA's Atlanta Champions


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