Free-wheeling students put burden behind them

Trend: Practical and smart, rolling school packs could be around for the long haul.

May 30, 2000|By Tamara Ikenberg | Tamara Ikenberg,SUN STAFF

The youthful crowd races down the walkway, rolling luggage in tow. The bags trail behind them as they weave through the occasional pack of slowpokes and take sharp hallway turns, miraculously avoiding collisions.

It's clear they have somewhere to go ... and fast.

A loudspeaker starts booming. Has Flight 243 to Denver been delayed?

No, but the school cafeteria will be serving chicken nuggets Monday.

However much it may resemble one, this is not an airport concourse teeming with tiny travelers. It's the main hallway at Joppa View Elementary School in White Marsh. Savvy students sick of carrying the weight of the world -- or at least of mammoth math textbooks -- on their shoulders, have started dragging it behind them.

The pint-sized pack animals appreciate their rolling or "wheely" backpacks, even though they make "a big thundering noise," says Ashley Cantor, 11, a fifth-grader. Fellow classmate Anthony Spinato, 10, likens the sound to a motorcycle revving up.

Rolling luggage may make it harder to silently creep into class late, but the invention, which is simply a canvas backpack mounted on a rolling frame with adjustable handles, is a blessing.

"The move to a wheely backpack is good for most students if they can't weed out the weight in their daily load," says Dr. Wayne Yankus, a pediatric orthopedist in New Jersey and chair of the school health section for the American Pediatric Association. "You've taken the weight off your back; now you're just pulling it."

Yankus says he first started seeing these backpack alternatives about two years ago. It was then, he says, that articles and studies began surfacing about the perils of school kids hauling overweight backpacks.

Joppa View Principal Russell Jones says he has gotten several complaints from parents about the mass of materials their children are expected to carry home every night. Still, he was a little apprehensive about allowing rolling backpacks in his school since there wasn't room to store them during the day.

"We put [them] somewhere in the corner of the classroom where they're not interfering with anything," says Sarah Abaza, 10.

Thanks to conscientious kids and accommodating faculty, wheely backpacks have slid into Joppa View culture quite comfortably. About 20 students there use them, he says.

Rolling backpacks have also been spotted at other area schools, including Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary School and Roland Park Elementary-Middle School.

If a kid gets bored with the rolling backpack, the contraptions can easily be converted into a regular pack by pushing in the handle and concealing the wheels. But the kids don't exercise that feature too often. After all, problems and pain caused by so-called normal backpacks prompted the switch in the first place.

Ashley's old pack self-destructed earlier in the year when the entire back flap ripped off.

"Her book bag is so extremely heavy," says her mother, Kim Cantor. "It's much easier to just roll it down the sidewalk." And the rolling backpack isn't only helpful in the school hallway. The Cantors use it for travel as well.

Sarah's mother, Sondos Abaza, was worried about her daughter's back pain. Sarah, whose pack bit the dust at the end of last year, says it used to leave red marks on her shoulders.

"That's when I started making her use [the rolling backpack] every day," says Abaza. "A lot of people were asking me where I got it."

Fortunately for overloaded kids and their concerned parents, rolling backpacks aren't hard to find. Available at stores like J.C. Penney and Hecht's, they retail for $30 to $60. To serve both the Pokemon-packing younger students and textbook-carrying older students, they come in large and small sizes. Locally, they are selling well, and popular labels include Champion, Sport Plus and Protocol. The reigning rolling backpack colors at Joppa View seem to be blue and green.

These may be considered the conservative Toyotas and Hondas of rolling backpacks. But Anthony Spinato and his twin brother, William, say that some classmates have opted for bolder packs in bright red, and the fourth-graders prefer a Pikachu print.

The kids swear the rollers are roomier and equipped with plentiful sleeves and pockets. Such perks are ideal for these 21st-century tykes. They carry water bottles, they have compact discs and trendy toys like Game Boys to lug, and are involved in a slew of school activities that all have their own additional accessories.

But any advance is bound to have a downside.

"They pull them behind them, and in the crush of the crowd there can be tripping over rolling backpacks," says Mary Ann Schaefer, school nurse at Joppa View.

Plus, it's tough getting through the school bus door. And for taller students like Ashley, a rolling backpack can present some real challenges.

"I'm too tall, and it rolls over on me," she says.

Yankus also warns that the wheels can get caught in grooves in the sidewalk or the floor.

And as with anything that sets students apart from their peers, rolling backpacks can be cause for taunting. He's seen backpack rollers berated by their classmates.

Joppa View's rolling backpack pioneers say they have not experienced discrimination from fellow students.

"They don't think it's weird," Anthony says. "They think it's cool."

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