While lockers mean middle school students don’t have to carry heavy textbooks on their backs, they can also create anxiety and other issues.
“The thing that people don’t realize is that lockers are the largest source of anxiety for students transitioning into middle school,” said Jennifer Powell-Lunder, adjunct professor of developmental psychology at Pace University. “When you talk to students, you realize it becomes the number one concern.”
York County Public Schools hasn’t made keeping backpacks in lockers an official policy but it is an enforced procedure, said York County Public Schools spokeswoman Katherine Goff.
In Williamsburg James City County middle schools, the procedure differs at each location but it is the common practice to keep the backpacks in lockers throughout the day, said WJCC spokeswoman Eileen Cox.
But lockers can contribute to an already stressful time for a middle school student because they are having to learn how to open their lockers and worrying about having enough time in between classes to transition.
“Everyone goes back and says how much middle school sucked,” Powell-Lunder said. “The word for that age is ‘awkward,’ and there are some students that already have issues with anxiety and lockers can just add to that.”
Age of anxiety
Middle school is a time where many girls are hitting puberty and not having access to a backpack can cause a lot of issues, Powell-Lunder said.
Girls at the schools are allowed to carry small purses and pencil pouches, but there remains some anxiety.
“Girls at this age are sensitive and may be embarrassed carrying something around that makes it obvious what they’re hiding. It’s like pointing a big finger at them,” Powell-Lunder said. “Girls who develop early on are already more likely to experience depression and anxiety so this could add onto that.”
But lockers help to provide a sense of growth for students as they transition into middle school, Goff said. It can give them the feeling of having a private space of their own and helps to provide a schedule and routine as they move throughout the day because they are planning what they need at certain times.
If a student comes to class with a backpack, teachers remind them to take the bag and secure it in their lockers, Goff said. Currently, there have not been any issues with students not complying to the procedure so teachers have not had to take any disciplinary action.
Keeping backpacks in lockers also ensures that students don’t have to carry around a heavy weight on their backs which can be detrimental to children’s growth at that age, Goff said.
“The teachers try not to have them carry a lot of stuff around and keeping their backpacks in their lockers is a helpful way to do that, I think,” said Patricia Terrill, who has two children in York County schools. “This way students can bring only what they need for certain parts of the day as opposed to a full day’s load.”
Powell-Lunder agrees there are positives to having lockers because they give students the chance to have a space of their own. But she also believes that lockers and their rules are a subject that should be considered in conjunction to the psychology of middle school students.
“Of course there need to be rules, but we need to give students the ability to feel autonomous,” she said. “Lockers are great to give kids a sense of space but there needs to be a moderation when it comes to setting down the rules as well.”