15 August 2005

Back(breaking) to School

I can't help but notice that kids in my classes carry too much stuff. Our school has lockers and students are allowed to access them during passing times, lunch, and before/after school. It isn't as if they need to have everything for the entire school day in one bag. Meanwhile, kids don't wear their packs correctly---that is, over both shoulders---because it doesn't look cool. And don't get me started on the hazards of trying to navigate a classroom with these huge packs all over the floor.

A recent piece in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer got me thinking about all of these things again. Pediatricians and orthopedic surgeons are starting to see more injuries (such as pinched nerves and asymmetrical back muscles) to students that have been caused by carrying overloaded and incorrectly worn backpacks. The recommendation is that the weight of the pack be no more than 20% of the child's total body weight. Most students jam there's with an average of 25% of their body weight. Other recommendations include choosing a good pack with padded straps that holds the weight close to the body; cinching the straps tightly enough, using a waist strap, and distributing the weight evenly among the pack's pockets; and buying well-constructed packs with padding that protects backs from edges. Even so, many parents are having to buy more than one backpack each year because the containers wear out quickly under the ownership of students.

It would be nice if schools had enough money to buy double sets of textbooks: one for students to take home and keep there for the year and one classroom set. We do have that at my school for a couple of classes, but this is really too expensive a proposition for every class to have. (In NM, we didn't even have enough money to fund a classroom set to have on hand---much less check out books to individual students.) Perhaps as more texts are issued with a CD-ROM or on-line version in addition to the printed one, costs will be low enough to achieve the "two sets of books." This will definitely be something I will keep in mind as we adopt new curriculum materials this year.

A simpler solution would be to encourage students to use their passing time more wisely, including a stop at their locker more than once or twice a day. We have six minute passing times, with a "warning bell" sounded after five minutes have passed. You can guess what usually happens: kids stand around and clog up the hallway for five minutes and then scramble like cockroaches in the light once they hear the warning bell.

I also need to think about some procedure for backpacks in my classroom. I can't even begin to count the number of times I've tripped (or students have tripped---some even fallen) over the straps and other hazards associated with the backpacks.

In a few weeks, I'll see those kids looking "like beleaguered picnic ants wobbling from the park under hunks of pound cake." I think it's time to talk to them about lightening the load.

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