July 24, 2024

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Bloomberg Philanthropies gives D.C. $9.5 million to expand training for healthcare jobs

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A $9.5 million grant will help D.C. expand a career-training program into Southeast Washington, officials said Friday, with hopes of preparing more high-schoolers for health-care careers and filling historic shortages in the sector.

The donation from Bloomberg Philanthropies will support the expansion of the Advanced Technical Center in Northeast Washington’s Ward 5 and the opening of a second location in Ward 8. The ATC launched in 2022 to train students for jobs in cybersecurity and nursing.

The new site will help students earn credentials as certified nursing assistants or patient care technicians. It will be located near a new hospital set to open next year.

D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) said the technical center is “part of our work to reimagine high school and to blur the lines between high school, college and career.”

“It is training that connects our students to jobs that exist and need D.C. residents to fill them in Washington, D.C., right now,” Bowser said at a news conference. “We want every student who goes to our public schools to graduate and be ready for their next step.”

Bowser endorsed Mike Bloomberg, founder of Bloomberg Philanthropies and former New York mayor, in his 2020 presidential bid.

Currently, about 200 students commute from their high schools daily to take classes at the ATC. Teens in the program have said they value the opportunity to pursue their interests and like the school’s tightknit community.

It has also paid off in other ways. Students in the program tend to have better attendance than their peers, according to an analysis from D.C.’s education superintendent. They also leave with industry credentials and college credits aligned with the cybersecurity program at the University of the District of Columbia or the nursing track at Trinity Washington University.

Interest in the two-year program more than doubled between its first two years, according to officials. Fifty-three of 96 students in the first cohort finished the program this spring, said Andrea Zimmermann, the school’s administrator. Earlier this year, D.C. announced a $4.1 million grant from the Biden-Harris administration to expand the number of seats to 300.

The new location, slated to open at the Whitman-Walker Max Robinson Center during the 2025-2026 school year, is expected to serve 75 students its first year and “grow year over year,” said Christina Grant, state superintendent of education.

The city will match the Bloomberg Philanthropies gift with local funding, according to the budget proposal the D.C. Council is scheduled to approve on Wednesday. It comes as students and parents call on school leaders for more vocational programs, which have seen a resurgence in D.C. and in schools across the country in recent years.

“There was this huge push to get rid of vocational schools,” said Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers. She said that was caused, in part, by expectations on high schools to send every graduate to college. Higher education is important, she added, but career and technical education “is creating choice and opportunity for our kids.”

The prospect of a career — and college credits — is what drew Imani Watson, 17, to the ATC this year. She takes a van from her high school at Friendship Collegiate Academy to attend nursing classes.

“It’s not hard if you put your mind to it,” she said. The classes are small and students are treated like young professionals, something that Watson appreciates as she prepares for an internship this summer at Sibley Memorial Hospital — another perk of the program. “It’s a great opportunity.”

Health training programs have been a focus for Bloomberg Philanthropies, which launched a $250 million effort in January to create new high schools that will send graduates directly into health-care jobs in cities including Boston, Dallas and Durham, N.C.

“We know that more than half the country doesn’t have four-year [bachelor’s degrees] and students are not left with a lot of options if they chose not to go to a four-year college,” said Jenny Sharfstein Kane, who leads Bloomberg’s career and technical education portfolio. “I think we are seeing that around the country because students more and more want to have a pathway to a career and might want to go directly into the workforce and earn.”

The new ATC location will expose students to the city’s first new inpatient facility in more than 20 years. Officials hope Cedar Hill Regional Medical Center, which is expected to open in early 2025, will usher in a renaissance east of the Anacostia River, by connecting underserved residents to emergency, primary and specialty care close to home.

The expansion of D.C.’s technical center also includes a bridge program designed by the D.C. Hospital Association, a member organization representing the District’s 13 hospitals, which will connect the graduates with a hospital, community health clinic or other care provider for an interview and first step in their career.

The newly minted health-care workers will gain real-world experience before or while they pursue a degree or higher credential — a potential boon for a city that will need an additional 570 nurses and 700 people to fill new licensed practical nursing, medical assistant and nursing assistant roles by 2030, according to employment data.

“This program is designed to take them on the first step in the journey in their health career and take them to the next level,” said Justin J. Palmer, the DCHA vice president of government relations and advocacy.

But there are still hurdles to overcome if the health-care industry wants to hold on to workers — the shortage in D.C. is all about wages and competition, said Joshua Harrold, associate director of training and employment funds for the 1199 Service Employees International Union.

“You can make as much money working in the District at Amazon or Walmart as you can a nursing assistant and have a lot less stress,” he said. “It takes a special person to be able to do this. … It’s not a glamorous job, but it’s a very meaningful job.”

Students who are interested in enrolling at the ATC should fill out an interest form and talk to their school counselor, according to its website.

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