The Edward M. Kennedy Academy for Health Careers will be revamped to create a guaranteed path to jobs at Mass General Brigham thanks to a multimillion investment from Bloomberg Philanthropies, the foundation announced Wednesday.
The school, an in-district charter within Boston Public Schools, is one of 10 schools and districts around the country that will be funded by a new $250 million initiative. Of that pool, the Kennedy Academy will receive an investment of $37.8 million over five years, eventually doubling its grade 9 to 12 enrollment to 800 students, according to city officials.
The revamped school will begin operating in 2024, and Mass General Brigham has committed to “providing job opportunities” for graduates of the new program. The investment, first reported by the New York Times, is the largest philanthropic gift BPS has ever received, according to a city spokesperson.
The Kennedy Academy, located in Roxbury and Mission Hill, serves about 375 students, overwhelmingly Black and Latino and those with high needs, including low-income students, English learners, and students with disabilities. A lottery-based charter school, it has hundreds of students on its waitlist, according to state data.
In future years, the district also intends to expand the school to grades 7 to 12, aligning with a district-wide reconfiguration, but that will require state approval because of the school’s charter school status.
The school has an existing partnership with Mass General Brigham, as well as with Northeastern University, where students have access to labs and libraries. The school offers pathways to careers in nursing and emergency services, and most Kennedy Academy students already take classes each year in the state-approved “Health Assisting” vocational program.
Through the initiative, Mass General Brigham will help design a curriculum of specialized health care classes which will be taught in part by its employees. Three new pathways will be added: surgery, medical imaging, and medical laboratory science, with extensive work-based learning. The program prepares students to launch careers in those fields upon graduation.
“In the early high school grades, work-based learning will consist of hospital visits, job shadowing, and participation in simulation labs,” said Caren Walker Gregory, the Kennedy Academy’s head of school. “Students in all pathways begin nearly twice weekly clinical practice in grade 11. First in specialized school-based skills for their pathway and then replacement and at partner health care facilities.”
The hospital system chose the new pathways based on the areas where it has the most need for employees and will guarantee interviews to all students who complete the programs. Many of the needed jobs require licenses but not advanced degrees. Students will also do paid after-school and summer internships with the health system.
For students who graduate straight into jobs at the hospital system, Mass General Brigham will subsidize the costs of ongoing education, while all students will have the chance to earn undergraduate college credits at no cost through partnerships with local higher education institutions.
“When Dr. Walker Gregory shared with us this amazing news, I was in shock,” said Alison Johnson, a grade 9 student at the school. “My classmates will soon have access to three additional pathways, surgery, medical imagining, imaging and biotechnology. I am interested in exploring these pathways, but at the moment, I am interested in becoming a labor and delivery nurse.”
The new initiative is driven by need on both ends — the need to create opportunities for students from marginalized communities and the need for labor in the health care system.
“For too long, our education system has failed to prepare students for good jobs in high-growth industries,” Michael Bloomberg, founder of Bloomberg Philanthropies, said in a statement. “By combining classroom learning with hands-on experience, these specialized healthcare high schools will prepare students for careers with opportunities for growth and advancement. America needs more healthcare workers, and we need a stronger, larger middle-class — and this is a way to help accomplish both goals.”
There are millions of open health care industry jobs, many of which do not require four-year degrees. Mass General alone has 2000 vacancies, the network’s president and CEO Dr. Anne Klibanski said.
“Healthcare systems across our country ... are facing such significant labor shortages that we have never seen before,” Klibanski said. “Our ability to break down generational health disparities depends on our ability to recruit and retain a diverse, culturally competent workforce.”
The Bloomberg money will go to startup costs like personnel, classroom and lab renovations, developing specialized curriculums, and stipends for work-based learning. The city and district will need to find significantly more space to double the school’s enrollment. To ensure the partnership is sustainable, Bloomberg also required the hospital network to commit to funding the partnership for another five years, according to Jenny Sharfstein Kane of Bloomberg Philanthropies.
In some of the districts getting funding, the money will be used to create entirely new schools, but Boston is receiving a particularly large investment because it already had a school and because of support from partners, Sharfstein Kane said.
The Kennedy Academy partnership is one of a number of new partnerships between BPS and local institutions. Mayor Michelle Wu noted the Bloomberg investment came soon after her recent announcement of a new partnership between UMass Boston and BCLA-McCormack High School, the district’s first “university-assisted community hub school,” among other new programs. Other partnerships are in the works with local colleges, businesses, and cultural institutions, Wu said, towards a goal of having strong college and career offerings at every high school in the city.