High-school students at risk for dropping out find direction at Georgia factory

(CBS News) The federal government's June jobs report is a mixed bag. Employers added 195,000 jobs with unemployment remaining at 7.6 percent last month.

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Of course, if you're a high-school dropout, your chances of landing a job are much slimmer.

But an enlightened employer can give even the most down-and-out young person a chance.

Kayla Patterson dropped out of school at age 15, just after her father's drug addition caused her family to fall apart.

Before her parents divorced, she was essentially homeless, living in a car. Patterson told CBS News' Mark Strassmann, "I had so much stress up under me with my parents and stuff I just kind of gave up, I guess, at the end."

Patterson found hope and a job at a plant run by the Southwire Company. At the plant in Carrollton, Ga., more than 160 of the workers are high-school students at risk for dropping out.

Mike Wiggins, a vice president for the company, said, "Our applicant pool was not growing. In fact, in some ways, it was shrinking."

Then he decided to do something about it. Southwire, one of the largest wire manufacturers in the country, decided to spend $2.5 million building a factory where students work for a minimum of 20 hours a week at $8 an hour. But they have to stay in school. The program is called 12 for Life. There are on-site classrooms and tutoring. Since 2007, it has helped more than 400 students to graduate.

About half the kids who start the program finish the program. Asked if he sees that as a half-success rate or a half-failure rate, Wiggins said, "Keep in mind, we start with a 100 percent failures, so every kid that gets a high-school education has been an incredible success."

Strassmann asked, "And many of these kids, before this program, didn't have that shot?"

Wiggins said, "They had almost less than zero chance."

In the past two years, Patterson has earned enough money to buy a car and get her own apartment. She went back to school and was looking forward to graduating when Strassmann interviewed her.

Patterson said, "Nothing's like walking across the stage and getting your high-school diploma and that's something I can say I'm going to do, so it's very exciting. ... I'm so excited. Can't wait."

Her dream came true in May. She's the first person in her family to earn a high school diploma.

Watch Mark Strassmann's report above.

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