RALEIGH — Small heads sporadically bobbed above a dozen pallet-mounted cardboard crates Saturday as the boys slid them in unison across a concrete floor. Other boys screwed more crates to pallets before attaching support straps and lids.
Volunteer Randy Strickland was there with his 13-year-old nephew, Thomas, who lost his father almost two years ago. He held the power cord out of the way while helping the boys cut access holes with a scroll saw. Stephen Anderson, 11, drew funny faces on the extra pieces with a marker.
Missions Thrift Store assistant manager Ken Walper marveled at the scene.
“These are some of the best workers we’ve had here,” he said. “They did a fantastic job.”
Five men helped 18 boys interested in attending Iron Academy, a new, all-male school, build 71 crates in a little over two hours. The store will load each crate with 1,200 to 1,400 pounds of clothes for the Kids Exchange at the N.C. State Fairgrounds.
Service is a vital component of Iron Academy’s curriculum and its application process, said Alan Hahn, the school’s founder and chief educational officer. A smaller group of boys built 30 crates for the store in December.
“All young men are going to fill a version of manhood (with some role model), so we try to fill their manhood with something positive,” Hahn said.
The school will open this August in space leased from White Cross Roads Baptist Church in northeast Raleigh. The school will provide boys with a sixth- to -grade education focused on Christian principles.
Hahn, a 42-year-old U.S. history, Constitution and Spanish teacher, said they’ve had several service days since October. It lets the staff and boys get to know each other in an informal way through work, and the boys can learn more about the school, he said. They also work with Hope Reins of Raleigh, a Christian ministry that pairs rescued horses with children facing difficult life issues.
The boys prayed together before the work began. Some were slow to start, but others jumped in, dragging cardboard boxes three times their size. A few boys found working together made the job easier.
“I thought the work would be hard, but it’s really fun,” Stephen Anderson said.
His father, Rich Anderson, is a Spanish teacher at North Raleigh Christian Academy and will move to Iron Academy later this year to teach math and science. He and Hahn talked about opening the school for a while, Anderson said.
Raising good men doesn’t happen by accident; young men need purpose and to know why what they’re doing matters, he said.
“The earlier in the process we can get these young men thinking that way, the less 40-year-old adolescents we have out there,” Anderson said
Iron Academy is open to all young men. All-male schools can address the different ways that boys learn and perform in class, he said.
The school’s curriculum will focus on the basics with special emphasis on complex critical-thinking skills, reading and public speaking. Students will start each day with physical activity.
Tuition for one year is $8,850 and covers everything except meals, extra books, school supplies and field trips. Classes will be limited to 15 students for every teacher.
As the work slowed, several boys gathered on flat cardboard boxes to talk about pocketknives and the latest iPod apps. After lunch, they listened as Anderson shared what it means to be a biblically grounded man.
Their reward for paying attention and working hard: shooting potatoes out of a hairspray-powered PVC cannon.
“There’s always something fun at the end,” Hahn said.