Atrium Health, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools Launch Innovative Health Care-Focused High School with Support from Bloomberg

02.08.2024 Atrium Health News

Philanthropic support to address health care workforce shortage; create career opportunities

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Feb. 8, 2024Atrium Health and Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools (CMS) announced today an unprecedented partnership to enhance the school system’s health sciences high school curriculum, launching an early college program that will help prepare students for well-paying careers in health care and address local education and health care talent needs. The new early college model will fully integrate health care career knowledge and job-training with a high-quality, well-rounded high school experience for students in Charlotte, graduating them directly into high-demand health care jobs that offer economic prosperity.

Hawthorne Academy will become part of a first-of-its-kind, $250 million initiative led by Bloomberg Philanthropies, connecting health care and education systems to new career and technical education (CTE) and early college high schools in 10 metropolitan and rural communities across the country, including the metropolitan locations Boston, MA; Dallas, TX; Durham, NC; Houston, TX; Nashville, TN; New York, NY; and Philadelphia, PA; and the rural areas Demopolis, AL and Northeast TN (six locations). The schools will collectively serve nearly 6,000 students at full capacity.

An initial $26.3 million investment from Bloomberg Philanthropies – one of the largest grants received by Atrium Health Foundation, to date – will support Atrium Health, Atrium Health’s Carolinas College of Health Sciences and CMS’s Hawthorne Academy of Health Sciences in co-developing the high school curriculum. Students will experience robust academic programming, specialized health care classes and work-based learning – coupled with the opportunity to earn industry-valued credentials and certifications, along with traditional high school learning.

Atrium Health is a leading employer in Charlotte, and this initiative will create an opportunity for students to gain direct work experience and access to attractive jobs within the health system, immediately following graduation. Specific roles include certified nursing assistants, registered nurses, radiologic technologists, neurodiagnostic technologists and health care simulation.  

“For too long, our education system has failed to prepare students for good jobs in high-growth industries,” said Michael R. Bloomberg, founder of Bloomberg Philanthropies and Bloomberg LP, who also served as the 108th mayor of New York City. “By combining classroom learning with hands-on experience, these specialized health care high schools will prepare students for careers with opportunities for growth and advancement.

“America needs more health care workers, and we need a stronger, larger middle-class – and this is a way to help accomplish both goals,” he added.

“Education and health care are the backbone of our community and I applaud the foresight and creative thinking shown by the leaders involved in this initiative,” said Charlotte Mayor Vi Lyles. “As the population of Charlotte and the surrounding areas continues to boom, we need a workforce that reflects the diversity of our population and has the training to meet the needs of the community, now and into the future.”

The city of Charlotte and the Mecklenburg County region are projected to have over 60,000 open clinical health care positions through 2027. Many of these jobs pay family-sustaining wages, provide clear paths to economic mobility and are resilient to automation or outsourcing. In addition, many do not require a four-year degree but offer individuals a path to grow their careers through continued education.

“There has never been a more pressing time for Atrium Health to ensure access to high-quality health care, and central to that is a well-trained health care workforce,” said Ken Haynes, president of the Southeast Region of Advocate Health, of which Atrium Health is a part. “This investment from Bloomberg Philanthropies will transform the lives of so many in our region – from students who otherwise would not join the health care field, to the patients who will be cared for with compassion and skill. By providing clear pathways for students’ careers, we strive to retain graduates close to home and grow our next generation workforce.”

Plans are for Hawthorne Academy, CMS’s dedicated health sciences magnet program, to have an official cohort in the 2025/2026 school year, selected through a lottery process. Students who are currently in the program will start receiving benefits of this gift as early as 2024 through paid internships and hands-on experiences.

As a result of the successful passage of the 2023 CMS bond referendum, Hawthorne Academy is expected to move to a new Second Ward High School in uptown Charlotte, within walking distance of Atrium Health’s new education center that will house Carolinas College of Health Sciences and the Charlotte-campus of Wake Forest University School of Medicine, co-located in “The Pearl” innovation district currently under construction.

“This investment allows Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools to take what has already been started at Hawthorne Academy of Health Sciences and expand it with the partnership with Atrium Health to take it to a new level that leads directly to employment in the healthcare industry for our students. This is the first program of its kind for CMS,” said CMS superintendent Dr. Crystal Hill.  “Upon graduation, our students will have a seamless transition to Carolinas College of Health Sciences, where they can continue their education and pursue the career of their dreams.”

Bloomberg Philanthropies’ investment will support Hawthorne Academy’s start-up costs, including personnel needs, classroom and lab renovations and other work-based learning requirements. Hawthorne Academy will provide traditional academic courses based on state graduation requirements, as well as specialized health care classes co-taught by Carolinas College of Health Sciences employees using the co-designed curricula. Students will also engage in immersive work-based learning at local Atrium Health facilities.

In ninth and 10th grades, students will participate in job-shadowing and practice their skills in simulation labs. Starting in 11th grade, students will have access to paid health care internships and professional mentoring, among other work-based learning experiences.

Modeled after Atrium Health’s Cabarrus Health Science Institute in Concord, which has a proven track record of success, Hawthorne Academy will work closely with Carolinas College to develop and implement the curriculum, which guarantees high school graduates’ entry into highly competitive tracks that will fully prepare graduates for opportunities within the Atrium Health workforce.