In the summer of 2013, members from the Greater Dalton Chamber of Commerce visited Carrollton, Georgia and heard of a program called the Great Promise Partnership.
The partnership began with the Carroll County schools and Southwire Company with the goal of helping students finish their education while getting experience in the workforce.
“Great Promise Partnership is a cooperative education initiative designed to help students facing real challenges to complete their high school education while gaining real-world job experience,” said Great Promise Partnership’s Merrill Wilcox.
After learning of the partnership, many local leaders and educators decided to bring the program to Dalton. Great Promise Partnership officials were all for the idea to expand the program to Dalton.
“Dalton is wonderful! As the “Carpet Capital of the World,” there is a strong local industry with serious workforce needs. However, Dalton struggles with the same issues of high school graduation that plague so much of our state,” Wilcox said. “With such great partners, however, the potential to face these challenges and create a pathway to success in the lives of struggling young people is very real.”
By the time the program started in Dalton, Great Promise Partnership had two new local partners—Morris Innovative High School and Beaulieu.
Missy Morton, dean of students at Morris Innovative High School, was one of the people to fight for the program to come to Morris.
“Mrs. Jennifer Phinney, Mr. George Kopcsak, and I met with representatives from Great Promise Partnership and Beaulieu to discuss the feasibility of the program with MIHS students,” Morton said.
Beaulieu Talent Development Coordinator Angie Ledford said they got onboard to further help the community.
“Beaulieu has the desire to make a difference in the lives of students and the community by providing value-added job tasks for the students to perform,” said Ledford.
Before Christmas break, interviews were held to see which students could enter the program. After additional interviews from both Morris and Beaulieu, four Morris students were hired by Beaulieu to participate in the Great Promise Partnership.
“Students who participate in GPP get life and job skill training,” Wilcox said. “Once employed, they continue to receive soft skill training as well as mentorship from selected and trained adults at their place of employment. They must go to school each day in order to work their shifts in the afternoons, and if they drop out, they lose their jobs. Furthermore, pay raises are based not just on job performance but also on school performance. In this way we create a very real incentive for engagement and success in school.”
“The partnership provides students with job skills while encouraging the students to stay in school and obtain a high school diploma,” said Morton.
Ledford said the students are learning about the manufacturing process and also helping with the yarn sorting.
“This helps them learn how to be part of a real world team and experience the satisfaction of being accountable for delivering real results,” Ledford said.
Morton and Ledford said not only are the students learning about Beaulieu and manufacturing, they are learning other life skills like communication, time management, dependability, and listening skills.
“Communication, accountability, and working together as part of a team are important life skills,” Ledford said. “By learning new skills, these students will increase their understanding of the world around them and experience an adult work environment, thus equipping themselves with important tools they will need to live a more productive and fulfilling life.”
Abraham Velazquez is one of the students participating in the partnership. He says the program is a good opportunity because it is part time and provides him with a chance to see how it feels to work in the carpet industry. He says the Beaulieu employees have been helpful and respectful of the students. “I’ve learned to respect your co-workers and listen to your supervisor,” says Velazquez.
All of the students agree that being able to work part time and continue to go to school was beneficial. Ana Orella added that she liked that she could work and still have her weekends off. She says participating in the partnership has helped her learn three things. “A job is a responsibility and your attitude matters. It’s also important to be on time,” she added.
“Morris Innovative has been an exemplary partner in this initiative. Their commitment to the success of their students is very real, and has been marked by an attitude of openness and willingness to ‘get to yes’ in figuring out the details of how to make this partnership work,” Wilcox said.
And of Beaulieu, Wilcox adds, “From their highest level of leadership to the folks on the facility floor who are working alongside the GPP students, they have embraced the program and the students.”
Ledford also hopes that when the Great Promise Partnership students finish school, they will consider Beaulieu as an employer.
“We believe allowing these students to experience our culture firsthand will encourage them to come back to us full-time when their education is complete,” Ledford said.
Said Wilcox: “The kids that are currently participating in Dalton have shown not just a real work ethic, but a significant change in their attitude towards school.”
While the program started with just three Morris Innovative High students, that number is currently up to 6. Both Beaulieu and Morris Innovative hope that they will have 10 students participating in the program by the end of 2014.
By Lindsey Derrick, Dalton Public Schools Contributor