Written by Megan Corey ‘21
Notebooks, computers, binders, pencils, and textbooks fill the bags of every Durham Academy Upper Schooler, and these backpacks are omnipresent. But with these monstrous weights come the painstaking grunts and moans of each student as they complete the strenuous task of picking up and putting down their bags in between classes.
According to the American Chiropractic Association, most doctors either recommend carrying no more than 10 percent of your body weight or that your backpack weigh around 11 pounds. However, a recent survey of Durham Academy Upper Schoolers showed that out of 124 respondents, 96 percent of students felt that their backpack was over this suggested weight. This begs the question: Are students’ backpacks at Durham Academy too heavy?
A heavy backpack can have serious consequences on a student’s body, causing back and shoulder pain, affecting their posture, leaving marks on their arms and shoulders, inducing muscle spasms and knots, increasing the risk of falling and even possibly leading to scoliosis later on in life.
Durham Academy students have reported such back and shoulder problems. One reported that they have “severe back issues and pains almost every day.” Another said, “It has started to affect my performance in sports. I really don't want permanent damage.”
While most had not weighed their backpacks, 52 percent felt their bags were somewhere between 20 to 40 pounds. Seven percent even said their backpacks felt like they were more than 40 pounds — the biggest offender being math textbooks. Students from ninth-graders to seniors noted that the classes that have the heaviest books by far are math and history. With 48 votes, math textbooks were the heaviest overall. History quickly followed with 42 votes.
Some methods that people use to lighten their backpacks include: storing some books in their advisory classroom, keeping books from the classes they drop at home or being aware of their posture when they carry their backpack. Someone also reported that they often “off-load some books to a separate bag” that they carry around.
While many of these tips can help to reduce the daily strain on the back, the most common piece of advice was to use a locker. One student said that “lockers are essential for keeping some books” as putting books into a safe place like a locker helps keep them clean and stores any extraneous items that add weight to a backpack.
So, why doesn’t everyone use lockers? Unfortunately, many students either don’t have one or don’t use it. With the growing Upper School population, the number of lockers around the double-decker building cannot accommodate everyone. However, one student reported, “I don’t have one, but even if I did, I wouldn't use it because it’s not convenient.”
This has actually been the case for many students who have lockers. With the new STEM building, which includes the new humanities wing, the focus of the campus has shifted. Many students have most of their classes in the STEM building and find it inconvenient to go across campus during their breaks to get a few books. Most would rather just carry their books with them.
Lockers also do not account for the books being carried for homework at the end of the day. Another student said, “I use my locker to store most of my books during the day, but going home after school my backpack weighs a ton.”
If lockers are not the answer, how do we fix this problem? Students cannot just get rid of all the textbooks. More than half of the students polled preferred tangible textbooks, as heavy as they are.
One solution is to use online textbooks but allow for students to print out sections. This makes it easier to take notes, is a lighter alternative and promotes a more environmentally-friendly solution.
Other solutions would be either more time in between classes to retrieve books from lockers, or more specification on which books are necessary on certain days in class or for homework. This provides an opportunity for students to have a lighter load but requires students to be more cognizant of the books they bring with them or leave behind.
The final solution is cubbies. With the construction of the STEM and humanities building, more space will be available for books and personal items. Cubbies in that building will be more accessible for the vast majority of students. Because they essentially replace lockers, one student said that “cubbies sound ineffective.” However, with a larger quantity of them placed in a more centralized area, cubbies may mitigate the backpack problem for many Durham Academy students.
No matter the route DA chooses, this survey shows that some sort of alternative to carrying heavy loads is necessary.