Newest Tacoma academy will give students healthy choice

Tacoma's new Health and Medicine Academy will train high school students, like the ones seen above at Good Samaritan Hospital Puyallup, for careers in the healthcare industry.
Tacoma's new Health and Medicine Academy will train high school students, like the ones seen above at Good Samaritan Hospital Puyallup, for careers in the healthcare industry. Staff file photo, 2014

Tacoma Public Schools is unveiling yet another specialty school experiment, created with the region’s shortage of healthcare workers in mind.

This fall, the Health and Medicine Academy will join a list of 19 other innovative schools in the district; options for high school students go by catchy acronyms such as SOTA (School of the Arts), SAMI (Science and Math Institute) and iDEA (Industrial Design Engineering and Art).

The newest offering, which aims to put students on a faster track to good-paying jobs, will be known as HAMA, for short. Health care is Pierce County’s largest private industry, employing more than 15 percent of the workforce, and that’s expected to increase almost 2 percent a year over the next five years as baby boomers grow old.

Unfortunately, the county’s booming industry also represents its largest shortage of workers. Credit the school district for taking this regional problem and turning it into an opportunity.

Superintendent Carla Santorno called it taking the city’s “vital signs;” under her leadership, the district has assigned three teachers for three block periods including biology, allied health/healthcare careers and medical information technology.

For now, the pilot program will cost $250,000 and be contained inside Stadium High. Seventy seven young pioneers have signed up to be the inaugural class of 2022.

The potential dividends make it a solid investment. Students will no longer have to wait until college to get hands-on experience in the medical industry.

Forget the narrow stereotype of teenage girls volunteering as hospital candy stripers; this program creates a pipeline for girls and boys to explore careers as nurses, physicians, dentists, medical technicians, social workers and more.

Santorno told our Editorial Board that many area health care jobs require only a high school diploma but “due to lack of training, they go unfilled.”

The purpose of HAMA is to make Tacoma students aware of these opportunities, entry-level and otherwise, and connect them to eager employers at our two locally based hospital systems. Students will have access to mentors, internships, training and scholarships.

Kudos to Multicare and CHI Franciscan for teaming with the district; their increasing willingness to cross competitive lines and partner with each other, such as on the soon-to-open psychiatric hospital on the Allenmore campus, is good for the community.

The HAMA partnership also includes Goodwill Industries, Tacoma Community College and University of Washington Tacoma. For two years, they’ve met to discuss Tacoma’s greatest resource: smart, young minds willing to learn and fill a growing need.

Santorno was quick to mention the district will recruit and prepare students of color and those from lower-income homes to work in medical fields, saying “I won’t consider the program a success unless we increase the number of underrepresented kids.”

A knack for creating opportunity is how TPS has increased its five-year graduation rate by 30 percentage points in seven years while closing achievement gaps between white and minority students and between students from affluent families and those from economically disadvantaged ones.

No wonder educators around the state and across the U.S. want to know what voodoo TPS employed to change a downward spiral into an upward trajectory.

No voodoo necessary. The district just had a few targeted goals: Give students more opportunities, get the community involved and get rid of old formulas that allowed zip codes, poverty or race to determine educational outcomes.

Do those things well and you have yourself one healthy community.