Wendell Phillips Academy High School teacher Michael Mancini holds the oversized $100,000 check donated to his STEM department plans for the Bronzeville school. Credit: Will Hendrickson

BRONZEVILLE — A Wendell Phillips Academy teacher already completed his grueling marathon through Bronzeville, but he’s still working to ensure his push for a science hub at the neighborhood high school reaches the finish line.

Teacher Michael Mancini is trying to raise $250,000, which would support one to two salaried teachers for two years as part of his push to create a science, technology, engineering and math department at Wendell Phillips. He’s raised about $165,000 to date, getting a big boost last weekend when Turner Construction donated $100,000 to the effort.

An oversized check from Turner Construction awaited the English teacher and strength coach as he completed his marathon through Bronzeville Saturday. A few days later, he also secured a $6,500 grant from the Society for the Advancement of Material and Process Engineering.

The fundraising campaign has brought in enough for the school to hire a full-time engineering teacher, who will develop the curriculum and register students for the 2021–22 school year.

It will also pay for the first installment of a partnership with Aerostar Avion Institute, which will establish Phillips as “the hub of aviation maintenance” for Chicago Public Schools, Mancini said.

The Aerostar partnership will allow students “to go to O’Hare or Midway to see the planes up close and the folks working on planes,” Mancini said. “It creates this pipeline into legit careers. … They’re going to provide access for our students to learn about [aviation], go to college and start careers in those fields.”

The engineering and aerospace “pillars” of the Phillips STEM department will be joined by biomedical and computer science and robotics programs as more funds are raised.

Investments from companies and individual donors could be compounded once the department opens, Mancini said.

The high school then could become more attractive to Bronzeville residents, enticing more students to enroll — and boosting the school’s funding from the district as a result, he said.

“We’ll continue to raise money, but it’s time to start spending some money,” Mancini said. “Now that we have this money, the goal is that the positive energy off this will start to drive some students to our school, and the flawed system that is per-pupil budgeting will start to take over.”

Networking opportunities and donations of resources for students have also been streaming in since the campaign reached the national news, Mancini said. He appeared on a national CBS News broadcast earlier this month.

“Now we’re in conversation with the University of Alabama in Huntsville [about a collaboration between high school and university students], and we’re working with Hitachi to hopefully get an electron microscope,” Mancini said. “I’ve handed that off to the science department head and said, ‘Let’s start getting on Zoom calls and setting this stuff up.'”

Last weekend’s marathon, run entirely on concrete, left Mancini’s body “beat up a little,” and he completed the 26.2-mile run about 30 minutes over his estimate. But students, faculty and alumni who turned out on a rainy day to show support kept him motivated, he said.

“Ultimately, I got it done and that’s really all that matters,” Mancini said. “We had some kids from the band out there in the rain going hard — they gave me juice.”

To donate to the school’s GoFundMe, click here.

The Wendell Phillips Academy band trails Mancini down a rainy Pershing Road Saturday. Credit: Will Hendrickson

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