Locker free: Mainstay less relevant in today’s schools

By Chris Kieffer/NEMS Daily Journal

Nearly anyone who has spent time as a student in a middle or a high school has a story involving his or her locker.
Those stories may soon be the only thing our children and grandchildren know about school lockers.
Long an iconic symbol of secondary school hallways, lockers are beginning to be phased out by schools as textbooks lose their prominence and principals opt for more orderly traffic flows.
Three of Lee County’s four middle schools – Plantersville, Guntown and Shannon – and Shannon High School all took out their lockers this past summer, and Mooreville Middle School is considering a similar change. Meanwhile, administrators in other schools have already removed their lockers or have seen them become less relevant.
“Lockers really are becoming a thing of the past,” said Tupelo High School Principal Jason Harris.
In fact, the move away from lockers is part of a much bigger shift in the way teachers are educating students. Textbooks are losing their central role as teachers are required to teach students more in-depth critical thinking and collaborative problem-solving.
Lessons now involve new interactive projectors, used by most schools in the region, that can display materials and activities teachers find on the Internet. Assignments include projects and group work.
Most schools still use textbooks, for now, but they keep them more as additional guides then primary resources. In some cases, schools have classroom sets of textbooks that students use at school but don’t necessarily tote around campus.
Plantersville Middle School Principal Bill Horton said his teachers began cutting back on their use of textbooks before the 2010-11 school year.
As students stopped carrying textbooks, lockers began to have more in common with a human appendix. They are tools from the past that don’t serve the role they once did.
And sometimes that appendix gets removed.
Eliminating lockers has alleviated several problems; said Horton, Guntown Principal Steven Havens and Shannon Middle Principal Keith Steele.
Lockers required much maintenance, and cleaning them at the end of the school year was a large hassle. Traffic now flows more smoothly in the hallways, they said, and tardies have decreased.
Steele said those hallways also have become much more quiet and contain “ninety-nine percent” less trash. He said students would try to stick papers in their lockers that would often fall out and litter the floor.
“I didn’t realize how much noise and banging there was until you miss it,” Steele said.
Mooreville Middle School Principal Lee Bruce said although his school is currently the only one in the Lee County School District to use lockers, it will revisit the issue and consider a possible change this summer.
Tupelo’s get less use
Tupelo’s schools still have lockers, but those lockers are not used as often as they used to be, said Harris and Tupelo Middle School Principal Kristy Luse.
Since the district began providing laptops to each of its sixth- to 12th-grade students last school year, most of those students no longer take textbooks home. Instead, teachers have a classroom set of textbooks to supplement their instruction.
Luse said that students still use the middle school’s lockers for personal items, such as a change of clothing for after-school sports practice, but trips to lockers between classes has dramatically decreased.
“It has really been transformed,” Luse said. “The transitional time between classes is so much more efficient because students are not spending time at lockers exchanging books and notebooks.”
Harris said that when the high school assigned lockers at the beginning of the school year, many students opted not to take one. The school even allowed students to choose lockers anywhere they wanted but that did little to spike demand.
“They really only need virtual lockers because everything is stored that way,” Harris said, referring to the student computers.
Regional use mixed
New Albany Superintendent Charles Garrett said that district’s middle school took out its lockers years ago, mainly because of its narrow hallways. Instead, every class has two sets of textbooks: one that students use in the classroom and one that students keep at home. New Albany High School still has lockers, Garrett said, and does not have any plans to remove them.
“The high school hallways are a little wider, and the building was designed for built-in lockers,” he said.
East Union School also opted to get rid of its lockers about eight or 10 years ago, Union County Superintendent Ken Basil said. That decision was made for safety, Basil said, so students couldn’t hide things in their lockers. Like New Albany Middle, the school uses two sets of textbooks.
Although the district’s other three schools currently have lockers, Basil said, they will be expensive when they need to be replaced. When that time comes, the district will have a serious decision to make in whether to replace them or remove them, he said.
Itawamba County Superintendent Teresa McNeece said that some of that district’s schools got rid of their lockers to improve traffic flow in the buildings, but others have still kept them.
Teachers adjust
Textbooks tend to be written to lower levels of thinking, Horton said, adding that they are not as helpful in teaching students the critical-thinking skills that state tests now demand.
Plus, Horton said, the school’s current textbooks are not aligned with the Common Core Curriculum, new standards that will be adopted by most states in the near future.
“We want the kids and the teachers to use more resources than the textbook,” Havens said. “Most textbooks don’t offer what the students need. They don’t have to think; the information is right there for them.
“We want them to think and come up with a conclusion and answer why. That is where we are headed.”
The three middle schools still have classroom sets of books and ones that students can check out, the three principals said. Shannon Middle also has duplicates of several books that students can keep at home, Steele said.
Teachers have used several substitutes. Plantersville seventh-grade language arts teacher Onessia Mosby said she uses more novels than textbook anthologies to teach reading. She also uses the novels for grammar and spelling lessons and gives her students more research and writing assignments.
Pam Lettieri, eighth-grade pre-algebra teacher at Plantersville, said she uses more real-world activities and projects. One day, students measured slope with a ramp and toy cars.
Teachers can also pull up activities, games and quizzes on their interactive projectors. Or they can bring in lessons they have learned from various training sessions they have attended.
“If education was the way it was 20 years ago, we would not have taken lockers out,” Horton said. “We would have depended on every kid having a book and keeping that. Education is not that way any more.”
chris.kieffer@journalinc.com

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