Beating the Statistics
Beating the Statistics:
The transformative potential of business & school system partnership
June 7th, 2016 – Atlanta, Ga.
Stephanie Critchfield, ADDO Worldwide
By 18, most people in Nivenitie McDaniel’s life expected her to drop out of high school with a baby on her hip. Instead, she graduated with honors from Kennesaw State University with a bachelor’s degree in Human Services. “If not for the 12 For Life program, I honestly believe I wouldn’t have graduated from high school,” she reflected. The program is a partnership between Southwire and the Carroll County School System and is designed to intervene with students who are at risk of dropping out.
Family dynamics, like so many at-risk students, was what made school so challenging for Nivenitie. Her single mother was raising three children, one of them chronically ill. The day-to-day and financial worry of her home life was encompassing. “I took the stress of what was going on at home out at school,” explained Nivenitie. Not only did her grades take a hit, she was getting in fights and facing suspensions. It was 12 For Life that helped her realize her potential.
“We wanted to play an active role in a real need in the community,” explained Richard Miller, an executive at Southwire who helped found and launch the 12 For Life Program in Carroll County. In 2007, prior to the program’s launch, the graduation rate for the school system was 65%, with the rate for economically disadvantaged students at just 55%. Richard and the Southwire team knew this was something they could impact. What they did wasn’t revolutionary in theory, but rather in scope and commitment.
The Making of 12 For Life
The program was borne out of a conversation between Southwire executives and the school system. What the company wanted was an opportunity to bring more than their checkbook to a problem, but also to apply their business perspicuity alongside their desire to be actively involved. Southwire is known for an honest and consistent investment in the community; the school system was eager to forge a plan together. 12 For Life is designed to identify students most at-risk of dropping out, and place them in a work-study that provides academic support and coaching, in addition to practical work and life skills and a working wage.
The business acumen Southwire brought to the problem was key to successfully impacting change. “To be sustainable long term, we had to treat this like something long term. It couldn’t just be an idea, or even a test — it had to be a viable part of our business,” explained Richard. The company began with the purchase of a dedicated facility. Then, the Southwire team determined a pool of existing work, tasks, and activities vital to the business that could be moved to a facility made up of 12 For Life student workers. This is how the plant was designed— with real work product in mind and dedicated space to create a successful environment.
Carroll County School System 12 For Life Project Director Doug Wright recognizes how important it has been to have a committed business partner. It has allowed them to enact change rapidly and at scale. Yet, he also sees tremendous value in their intention. “There is a genuine, companywide motivation at Southwire to make a difference in the lives of students,” he said. Often these students lack support and encouragement. In 12 For Life, they have school staff, mentors, Southwire supervisors and the plant manager invested in helping them reach their goals. “Often, that support is what matters to them most— even more than the compensation they’re provided,” added Doug.
Success by any Measure
12 For Life graduate Nivenitie has her sights set on continuing her education so she can pursue social work. “12 For Live motivated me to do something with my life— I didn’t have to be another statistic,” described Nivenitie about her experience with the program. Pursuing social work is her way of giving back. She realizes how many students today are just like she was, with few positive influences and encouraging voices in their life. “I would love to be in a position where I can be somebody they turn to — a person who beat the odds and knows what they’re going through firsthand.”
Today, the overall graduation rate is 82% with the economically disadvantaged rate at 84%— a 29% increase. For many 12 For Life Students, they are the first in their families to graduate. It’s the kind of impact that breaks the cycle.
As a result of their success, Southwire has grown and expanded their facility in Carroll County, and have been able to put more money back into the program, adding more classroom pods on site, hiring tutors and paying for summer school for students that need it. They are also providing students with a $250 check at graduation and preferential treatment if they decide to pursue work at Southwire. They have even opened a second, smaller 12 For Life Facility at their Alabama location.
Amid this success, there is yet another more meaningful way Richard Miller would quantify the program’s success. “If people successfully copy us — and we dutifully invite it — that is the best thing we can imagine, Amid this success, there is yet another more meaningful way Richard Miller would quantify the program’s success. “If people successfully copy us — and we dutifully invite it — that is the best thing we can imagine, because it means that our impact expands beyond our reach,” he explained.
Thousands of people have visited the facility, including Southwire customers, educators, and families, in addition to some of the Southeast’s most recognized brands. Southwire organizes full disclosure meetings with any company interested in mimicking their model. “Any company can do this,” said Richard with a pointed sense of certainty. “The secret is having a champion within the company willing to take it on and see it through. It’s that simple.”
Such was the case with E-Z-GO, an Augusta, Georgia-based global manufacturer of golf carts, utility and personal transportation vehicles. Like Southwire, the company is invested in making a lasting and personal impact in their community. After hearing about 12 For Life, they requested a meeting to learn about the program’s construction, with the hope of mimicking it at EZ-GO. “They have a person who saw the opportunity, found a need, and jumped in with both feet,” said Richard.
“I have two brothers, Rolando and Damien, and one of them works for Southwire,” Nivenitie said proudly. Rolando graduated this year and, like Nivenitie, he attended the 12 For Life program. Older brother Damien was not a student of 12 For Life, it made an impact nonetheless. The program motivated him to apply for work at Southwire— to be a part of the company that had done so much for his family. By this measure, every positive interaction has exponential potential to create impact. “I am worth it,” said Nivenitie. “They helped me establish my self worth. There is no price tag you can put on that.”