A MASK volunteer teaches a group of students a science lesson on the first day of class at the new community school, which will be in session until the city's public and private schools resume their schedule. Credit: Jamie Nesbitt Golden/Block Club Chicago

ENGLEWOOD — After months of setbacks and bureaucracy, the Mothers Against Senseless Killings community school opened Tuesday morning, the day public and private schools across the state were shut down to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

MASK volunteers worked around the clock last weekend to turn a trio of shipping containers on the corner of 75th Street and Stewart Avenue into classrooms large enough to accommodate students from the immediate neighborhood and other South Side communities.

Now that the Centers for Disease Control are discouraging gatherings of ten or more people, MASK Founder Tamar Manasseh told Block Club she will be following suggested guidelines to ensure the safety of students and volunteers.

“There will not be more than ten people in a room,” said Manasseh, as a group of four students, led by a volunteer teacher, assembled a terrarium. “We have a small staff of volunteers who will teach reading, math and science. We want to make sure the kids don’t fall behind.”

Classes are held from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m Monday through Friday. Breakfast, lunch, and snacks are provided.

Credit: Tamar Manasseh/Facebook

While the first day went smoothly, Manasseh has had trouble getting the U.S. Postal Service to deliver much-needed donations to the site.

“FedEx, DHL and UPS deliver our stuff without a problem, but USPS told us that they can’t make deliveries here because we have no address,” said Manasseh.

She was told by a USPS customer service representative that she would need proof of zoning or a housing voucher to receive her items.

“I asked to speak to the manager, who told me that the city had to certify my address,” said Manasseh. “But they couldn’t tell me how I supposed to do that.”

USPS may not know where the school is, but the city certainly does; the activist has been contesting code violations for months.

“I pay a light bill addressed to this site every month. How could they not know?” asked Manasseh.

In the meantime, she plans to open a P.O. Box to make things easier.

Donations have been coming in — one person donated a mini-fridge Tuesday morning — but there are still a number of items the school needs, including packaged, non-perishable food (fruit, protein, and granola bars; canned goods), bookshelves, and more sterilization supplies.

“The sterilization supplies are important because, again, we want to keep everyone here healthy,” said Manasseh.

She plans on keeping the community school open until Chicago schools are back in session, after which it will be converted into a trade school.

While “the new normal” is a little scary for Manasseh and her team, the work must continue, she said.

“This pandemic can’t stop us. We have to build a bridge to get to the other side,” said Manasseh. “There’s always going to be a threat. The world doesn’t stop for these kids just because it’s stopped with adults. We have to be proactive.”

Credit: Tamar Manasseh/Facebook
Credit: Tamar Manasseh/Facebook
Volunteers worked around the clock to get the classroom ready for Tuesday’s opening, creating a “Reading Wall” for students. Credit: Jamie Nesbitt Golden/Block Club Chicago

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