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Community Development

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Volume 21, Number 1, 2011

Putting It All Together for a Better Future


When high school graduation rates in Carroll County, Ga., began to falter, one local business decided to do something to reverse the trend. In "Putting It All Together for a Better Future," featured in the current issue of Partners in Community and Economic Development, staff writer Lela Somoza details the innovative business-educator partnership aimed at boosting graduation rates and building a ready workforce.

Southwire Company, a family-owned manufacturer of wire and cable, partnered with the Carroll County School System in 2007 to create 12 for Life. "The program's name reflects its core mission: to help students at risk of dropping out realize the difference a full 12 years of education can make in their lives," writes Somoza. By combining traditional classroom education with a job at a Southwire plant built just for students, 12 for Life helps at-risk students work toward graduation while also earning a paycheck. In addition to helping prevent dropouts, the program also teaches students important life skills, including financial literacy and a good work ethic. It is this inclusive strategy—aligning the community's education, workforce development, and economic development goals—that makes 12 for Life different, says the article.

Progress so far suggests that the program is working. 12 for Life has guided more than 170 students to high school graduation since the program began in 2007. Further, the graduation rate within the program is a successful 97 percent. From a wider perspective, the program is also helping boost the county's graduation rate, which increased 11 percentage points to 77.2 percent between 2004 and 2009. Of course, the schools are doing important work to address the community's education problems, too, note officials.

According to Somoza, Southwire is eager to see the program replicated elsewhere. To show that the 12 for Life model can be implemented on a smaller scale, Southwire started another program in Florence, Ala., where it has another manufacturing facility. 12 for Life Florence is about one-third the size of the original program. In 2010, Monroe County Schools and the Georgia Department of Corrections announced the first attempt to create the program at a nonmanufacturing, nonSouthwire facility.

To learn more about the innovative solution to a problem shared by many communities across the nation, read the full article in the recent issue of Partners in Community and Economic Development, now available in print or online.