Take a look inside a backpack and you’ll get a glimpse inside its owner’s life: perhaps notebooks and pens show evidence of his favorite color, or what he likes to do in his free time. There are folders full of assignments that indicate her potential career path, a book she reads for fun and keys that show the car she drives. It’s a peek into that person’s world and what absorbs her at the moment.
We asked two local high schoolers to give us a look at the things they carry, and we talked to a local chiropractor about that age-old parental concern: My kid’s backpack is way too heavy.
Charlottesville High School freshman
Jack Keaveny gets to CHS by 8am every day; his mom (C-VILLE Arts editor Tami Keaveny) drives him to school. This semester, he’s taking Spanish, English, engineering, history of sports, geometry, biology and, his favorite, world history, where he’s enjoyed learning about ancient Rome. Like most of his classmates, Keaveny carries his neon green-and-black Under Armour backpack around all day—nobody really uses the few lockers left at CHS. And, he carries his phone in his pocket—they’re not allowed at school, he says, but everyone uses them anyway. When school ends at 3:50pm, Keaveny does some combination of homework, hanging out with friends or working out at the Y. His evenings usually include music, which is really important to him: He plays guitar and makes beats.
• School-issued Lenovo ThinkPad Chromebook
• Green homework folder
• Unused red spiral-bound notebook
• Unused blue spiral-bound notebook
• Black-and-white composition book for English class
• PSAT practice test
• Green binder for graded assignments
• Stephen Crane’s The Red Badge of Courage, current reading for English class
• Lunch box
• Green patterned pencil case
• Colored pencils, black pens, yellow highlighters
• Retainer case
• Axe spray deodorant
• Chromebook charger
• School-issued student ID card
• Green spiral keychain with house key and a pass for Brooks Family YMCA
• No. 2 pencils
• Broken pencils and pieces of a broken ruler
• Peanut butter cup wrapper
• Stack of blank index cards (he’s carried these around for about three years)
Albemarle High School senior
As Albemarle High School swim team captain, Rachel Wang’s day starts early. She wakes at 4:40am, drives herself to the pool for a 5:30-7:30am practice, then showers at the pool, eats breakfast and gets to school before it begins at 8:55am. After school, she eats dinner, does homework (usually between one and two hours a night, rarely more than three hours) and goes to bed early. She also teaches piano to younger kids three days a week. There are no lockers at AHS, so she carries her black-and-gray Patagonia backpack around all day. Wang, who’s thinking about becoming an engineer, takes a full course load, including government, physics, macroeconomics, literature, issues of the modern world, vector calculus and an engineering class. She’s currently waiting to hear back from colleges, though she’s already been accepted to UVA.
• MacBook Air (a hand-me-down from her mom, Wang says this is why her backpack is lighter than her friends’: It’s a fraction of the weight of the school-issued Lenovo Thinkpad)
• Black physics notebook
• Folders for literature, government and physics classes
• Barack Obama’s Dreams from My Father, which she’s reading for fun
• Gray fabric pencil case
• Pens, pencils, Sharpies, highlighters
• Texas Instruments graphing calculator (math class requirement)
• Car and house keys
• Planner notebook (“I’m a very on-paper person,” she says about her choice to have a planner notebook instead of relying on her phone calendar)
• Tide stick
• Hand sanitizer
• Senior lunch pass, which allows Wang to leave campus for the long lunch period each Wednesday
Though long-term injuries from backpacks do occur, they’re somewhat rare, says Dr. Sam Spillman of Balance Chiropractic. And while backpacks seem
to be getting lighter, due to the fact that more schoolwork is being done using tablets and laptops instead of heavy textbooks, it’s important to keep an eye on what’s being carried, why and how.
Spillman suggests a few rules of thumb to make sure it’s done safely:
• A kid’s backpack shouldn’t weigh more than 10 to 20 percent of his body weight.
• Make sure a backpack is the right size for its carrier: The pack should not be longer than the carrier’s torso.
• Pick a pack with wide straps, a chest strap and a waist belt to better distribute the weight.
• There’s also the rolling backpack…though it’s not the coolest look.
• Kids: Speak up! If your backpack feels too heavy, tell your parents. Parents: When your kids tell you their backpack feels too heavy, listen to them and see if a different backpack is in order.
In fact, safely lugging a little extra weight around isn’t the worst thing a young person can do, says Spillman. Kids and teens today are more sedentary than previous generations, and carrying a backpack from class to class can actually help strengthen their spines and back muscles.