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Florence graduation rates rise through “12 For Life” program

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FLORENCE, Ala. (WHNT) – Most high school students are in the classroom at 9:00 am, preparing for their next test or assignment.

But the students involved in the “12 For Life” program in Florence are starting hour number two of a four-hour shift.

The program was created by electrical wire manufacturer Southwire and helps the students get paid to work in a manufacturing environment while also getting school credit.

There’s no another program like it in the state.

Keanere Cole, a Florence High School senior, works in the program and said he has already gained valuable experience.

“Cause I come here and go straight to school. And if you come here, then you are required to go to school,” Cole explained. “You can’t come to work and not go to school.”

But it’s not all about work.

Students also use the time to learn other life skills outside of work, while also receiving tutoring for normal classwork.

“We learn about managing our money. We’ve learned what we can work on to get better at being by ourselves with our scheduling,” high school senior Lillian Tellez said.

Southwire started the program in Georgia, where they were having a difficult time finding high school level graduates to work in their facilities.

Southwire officials said the program has helped Florence students stay in school to get their diploma.

“To see them from that immaturity level they started with and to see them graduate, because this is all about graduating the student employee. To see them graduate, we know at the end of the day, what we did had a direct impact on that student’s life,” said Southwire’s Charles Stewart, manager of the “12 For Life” program.

The Florence school system had a graduation rate of 68% in 2009.  Now the graduation rate is at 96%.

Since “12 For Life” started in Florence, the program has maintained a 100% graduation rate among student employees.

And school leaders said that is a direct reflection of the school system’s mission in meeting students where they are, and helping them prosper.

According to Southwire officials, students are paid $9.00 per hour and get incentive bonuses for making straight A’s and B’s.

Students who work in the “12 For Life” program have also received numerous scholarship offers through the University of North Alabama and Shoals Community College to further their education.

And according to program managers, other private companies have contacted them to see about becoming a partner in “12 For Life.”

The Council for Leaders in Alabama Schools has given the program a 2014 Blue Ribbon for their outstanding accomplishments.