EducationHealth CareNews & Opinion

Atrium and CMS to Launch Early College High School Program

$250M Bloomberg investment aims to address workforce shortage

Atrium Health
Hawthorne Academy of Health Sciences, home to Atrium’s new early-college high school program, will soon relocate to a new Second Ward High School facility within walking distance of Atrium Health’s Uptown campus. (Photo courtesy of Atrium Health)

Atrium Health and Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools on Thursday announced plans to launch an early-college high school program to provide students with career paths in the health care industry, which currently faces a workforce shortage.

The $250-million initiative is part of Bloomberg Philanthropies’ mission to address the health care workforce shortage and connect health care opportunities to new career and technical education (CTE) and early college high schools, an Atrium press release stated. 

The initiative will serve nearly 6,000 students annually at 10 locations spread throughout the country, including Hawthorne Academy of Health Sciences in the Belmont neighborhood. Other locations include Boston; Durham; Houston; New York City; Philadelphia; Nashville, Tennessee; Dallas, Texas; and rural areas in Alabama and northeastern Tennessee. 

Thanks to the successful passage the 2023 CMS bond referendum, Hawthorne Academy will soon relocate to a new Second Ward High School in Uptown, within walking distance of Atrium Health’s new education center. 

Modeled after the success of Atrium Health’s Cabarrus Health Science Institute in Concord, Hawthorne Academy will provide traditional academic courses along with specialized health care classes co-taught by Carolinas College of Health Sciences employees and immersive work-based learning at local Atrium Health facilities, the press release said.

Students will begin to participate in job-shadowing and simulation labs in ninth and 10th grade and take part in paid internships in the health care field along with professional mentoring starting in 11th grade. These work-based learning experiences will be designed to prepare graduates for early entry into the Atrium Health workforce.

Bloomberg Philanthropies’ $26.3 million investment will support Atrium Health, Atrium Health’s Carolinas College of Health Sciences and Hawthorne Academy in co-developing the curriculum as well as start-up costs, personnel needs, classroom and lab renovations and other work-based learning requirements.

“For too long, our education system has failed to prepare students for good jobs in high-growth industries,” Bloomberg Philanthropies founder Michael Bloomberg stated in the release. “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. 

The initiative will introduce students to competitive health care job opportunities such as certified nursing assistant, registered nurse, radiologic technologist, neurodiagnostic technologist and health care simulation immediately following graduation.

“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,” Charlotte Mayor Vi Lyles said. “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.” 

According to the press release, there will be more than 60,000 open clinical health care positions available in Mecklenburg County through 2027, many providing family-sustaining wages, offering paths to economic mobility and deterring automation or outsourcing while presenting opportunities for growth through continued education.

North Carolina currently faces a potential shortage of close to 21,000 registered nurses and at least 5,000 licensed practical nurses by 2033, as reported by NC Health News in January

“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, Atrium Health’s parent company. 

“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,” he continued. “By providing clear pathways for students’ careers, we strive to retain graduates close to home and grow our next generation workforce.” 

As CMS’ dedicated health sciences magnet program, Hawthorne Academy will determine the 2025-’26 school year cohort through a lottery process with students receiving paid internships and hands-on experience as early as 2024.

“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.”

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