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Bronzeville, Near South Side

This South Side Teacher Is Running A Marathon To Help Fund A STEM Department At Wendell Phillips — And Companies Are Stepping Up To Help

Ahead of his May 15 marathon to create a science and engineering hub at the Bronzeville high school, teacher Michael Mancini isn't just training for the 26.2-mile run — he's connecting with local businesses to make his vision a reality.

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BRONZEVILLE — As a Bronzeville teacher gears up to run a marathon for a science, technology, engineering and math department at his high school, he’s doing more than preparing his body for the grueling run — he’s also building relationships with companies in the fields he wants his students to enter.

Michael Mancini, an English teacher and strength coach at Wendell Phillips Academy High School, will run 26.2 miles through Bronzeville next month as he works to create a STEM and computer science department at the school, 244 E. Pershing Road. Since he was previously focused on strength, he could barely could run a mile before he started training for this marathon.

Individual supporters have donated $25,000 to the school’s GoFundMe as of Monday morning, and Pitsco Education donated 10 rocket kits and a voucher to be spent this fall.

Turner Construction plans to donate money, help create the curriculum and offer career days, job site visits and other programs to give Phillips students a taste of the construction and engineering fields. Company officials have already begun meeting virtually with students through the high school’s “academic cafes.”

The international company’s Chicago office has looked to work in high schools “for a number of years now,” and Phillips faculty members have proven to be fitting partners, said Pamyla Fountain Brown, director of community and citizenship. She’s a native West Sider who lives on the South Side.

“I’m always a fan of quality partnerships and opportunities for young people [that] make their way to the South and West sides of Chicago,” Fountain Brown said. “I’m excited about being able to put people in front of students who look like me, to teach them and show them the endless possibilities of what this could be.”

Turner Construction exposes students to architecture, construction and engineering through the ACE Mentor program, which has Vice President Kate VanZeyl on the board. But the Phillips STEM department can benefit kids with an interest in the field who may not have the time or energy to access programs after school, VanZeyl said.

“We don’t want to just financially contribute,” she said. “We want to be actively involved, volunteer and develop relationships with kids as mentors as they grow through high school.”

Mancini is “very hopeful” businesses and more individual donors will allow the school to reach its $250,000 goal to pay for teachers and a robotics lab, he said. A local civil engineering firm has donated $5,000 to the fundraiser, Mancini said, and he also hopes to connect with an aerospace nonprofit.

“… When I started, I was really focused on computers and robotics,” Mancini said. “Now there seems like a potential for four pillars for our students: computers and robotics, engineering and architecture, biomedical and aerospace.”

The fundraising effort is “going to push past the marathon day,” Mancini said. Some businesses have shown interest in donating, but they are struggling due to the pandemic and want to get to the end of the fiscal year in June before making a decision, he said.

The marathon itself will start 10 a.m. May 15 at Wendell Phillips Academy, and “God willing, I’ll finish by sunset,” Mancini said. He plans to have the school’s band perform along the route, and other teachers have offered to run shifts with him.

On Mancini’s marathon playlist, “there’s anything from the Beatles, to Earth Wind and Fire, to some modern dance music like Calvin Harris, stuff like 1960s doo-wop — anything that makes you smile,” he said. “It’s stuff that makes me want to sing out loud and have a smile on my face” during the grueling run.

If the fundraiser reaches its goal, the STEM department would debut at Phillips as soon as the 2021-22 school year.

Benford Brown & Associates Accounting, based out of Avalon Park, is helping the project as a financial adviser, founding partner Kimi Ellen said.

As a parent to two Brooks College Prep graduates with STEM degrees, Ellen said she knows how important it is to expose students of color to the field.

“The best way I know how to change the narrative is to teach people about how to select majors that will result in them establishing careers — lifelong careers that can actually change their financial trajectory in life,” Ellen said.

Once the funds are raised to get the program off the ground, Ellen said she’ll continue to help finding money needed to sustain the program. Students will need to attend symposiums, partner with other organizations in STEM fields and participate in other programs to complement their in-class work, she said.

“It’s not going to be something we do in two years and it’s done,” Ellen said. “It’s a long-term commitment.”

To donate to the fundraiser, click here. To donate educational supplies or technology, or arrange for a corporate sponsorship, contact Mancini by email.

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