Factory offers teens school and job skills

CARROLL COUNTY, Ga. (WXIA) -- One Georgia company is not only turning around the high school dropout rate in the area, it's also preparing students for jobs as soon as they get a diploma.

The program is called 12 For Life – to stress that the first 12 years of school are critical to everyone's future.

It looks like no other high school you've ever seen – outside and in, by design. It's part workplace, with plenty of classroom space.

"We have a factory and we built a schoolhouse inside the factory," said Stu Thorn, president and CEO of Southwire.

12 For Life is part of Southwire, the largest wire and cable manufacturer in the U.S. -- deeply rooted in the Carroll County for 64 years.

Seven years ago, Southwire's community commitment led President and CEO Stu Thorn to do more.

"12 For Life means if you finish 12 years of school, you're going to have a better life," Thorn said. "We run this plant just like any of our other plants, basically, but we do it with high school students."

All of 300 of them, the school system has identified as likely to drop out.

"I had a kid when I was 17 and my mom passed away shortly before," said Megan.

Jeliegha said, "My mom's on disability and my dad's like it's…it's kind of hard for him to like keep a job."

They get academic main courses with a big side order of work skills.

"We run this plant just like any of our other plants, basically, but we do it with high school students," said Thorn.

Surprisingly, even with the starting pay of $8 an hour, that's not what students mention as what they like most.

"You can talk to them about anything," Jeliegha said. "They help you."

"You can either pity yourself, like I did before I came in here, or you can rise above it and have people that care about you," said Tristan.

For Carroll County Schools, Southwire as a partnership is a game-changer.

"Our graduation rates for these students, that are at risk students, has improved dramatically," said superintendent Scott Cowart.

It's no wonder. The best part for some?

"My diploma," one of the students said.

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