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$38 million gift to expand healthcare career training in public schools from Mike Bloomberg
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$38 million gift to expand healthcare career training in public schools from Mike Bloomberg

Boston Public Schools announced a new $38 million donation from Mike Bloomberg’s philanthropic organization that will allow it to expand a small vocational charter school in the district and create new pathways to jobs with the state’s largest hospital system.

The $38 million investment from Bloomberg Philanthropies is BPS’s largest financial gift. It plans to double the size of the Edward M. Kennedy Academy for Health Careers — known to many as “EMK” — to 800 students and create a workforce pipeline to Mass General Brigham, the state’s largest private employer.

The grant is part of a broader $250 million initiative from Bloomberg Philanthropies that pairs high schools in 10 communities nationwide with hospital systems struggling with workforce shortages. The other participating cities include Nashville, Houston, New York, Philadelphia, Charlotte, and Dallas, as well as four rural communities in Tennessee and Alabama.

“EMK serves as a blueprint and model,” said BPS superintendent Mary Skipper during an announcement of the grant at Massachusetts General Hospital. “Not just for our other Boston Public Schools but also for the rest of the country of what can happen when you get philanthropy and a strong partner like Mass General Brigham at the table to develop an interest in an industry as important as medical care.”

The Edward M. Kennedy Academy currently enrolls 375 students and has a waiting list of roughly 400. Over the next five years, the school will double to accommodate 800 students in grades 9 to 12 and eventually add grades 7 and 8. The school, which already offers healthcare pathways in nursing and emergency services, will add new options under the Bloomberg grant, such as medical imaging and surgery.

The academy is housed on two campuses, in Roxbury and Mission Hill, and serves a predominantly Black and Hispanic student population. The new partnership with Mass General Brigham was briefly mentioned in Mayor Michelle Wu’s State of the City address last week in which she touted “career-connected learning.”

The president of the Boston Teachers Union applauded the new partnership, saying the city should invest in this kind of workforce development.

“This is a win in many ways,” said Jessica Tang, who has led the union since 2017. “The hospitals need staffing, our students need career pathways, and our communities benefit when we have strong schools and hospitals.”

Under the partnership, students will receive training like hospital visits, job shadowing, simulation labs, paid summer internships, and specialized healthcare classes. According to details announced, students will also have a chance to earn college credit through dual enrollment or in an early college program at a 2- or 4-year institution.

Students in the program will be encouraged to decide on a healthcare specialty by the end of tenth grade. Then, during their junior and senior years, they’ll receive in-person training at Mass General Brigham departments and labs. And when students graduate, they’ll have direct lines to jobs within the hospital system.

The potential to get a job in a health care field right out of school is an important part of the program, said those involved.

“For far too long, students have been left with one option: four-year college or nothing,” said Jenny Kane, the head of college access and success at Bloomberg Philanthropies. “We know students and parents want and need more options.”

In Massachusetts, the need for hospital-based healthcare workers is high. According to the Massachusetts Health & Hospital Association, there are about 19,000 job openings statewide.

Dr. Anne Klibanski, the president and CEO of Mass General Brigham, called the new partnership “transformational.”

“What we will do is dramatically enhance our ability to train, educate, and diversify the next generation of health care professionals at such a critical time for our workforce,” she said.

Mass General Brigham currently has about 2,000 open positions in its 84,000-member staff. According to Klibanski, the majority of the openings are for nurses, physician assistants, surgical techs, and lab techs.

Several Edward M. Kennedy Academy students spoke at the announcement, describing their career goals and praising the upcoming expansion.

“I was in shock,” said Alison Johnson, a freshman from Dorchester, about the moment she learned of the grant. “My classmates will soon have access to three additional [health care] pathways.”

Tang said doubling the size of the Edward Kennedy Academy and adding new career pathways will be a major undertaking. However, she pointed out that the American Federation of Teachers, a national teachers’ union, has helped other cities grow similar partnerships.

“We have a lot of resources and experiences to share,” said Tang. “We want to be a real partner in seeing this succeed.”

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