Lockers, coats get cold shoulder in high school

Lockers, coats get cold shoulder in high school

Click here to watch a video of Urbana High students explaining their aversion to coats and lockers.


It was 7 degrees the other day when I drove by a local high school, watching scores of students hurry into the building with no coats.

I saw sweatshirts, hoodies and a few North Face fleeces (the high school uniform of choice). So I guess those count. But actual winter coats were in short supply — maybe 10 to 20 percent of students, by my informal count. I’ve been watching this trend over time.

Apparently being warm is a hassle. You have to stuff a coat into your backpack, carry it around or, God forbid, actually go to your locker — which is apparently passé.

There’s also a style consideration. One Urbana High School student told me wearing a puffy coat makes her feel like a “marshmallow.”

Teens generally seem oblivious to the cold (among other things, like parental advice).

More than one mom has told me how their son managed to go through an entire school year in shorts. In one case, it was a bet. In another ... I’m not really sure of the motivation.

Urbana freshman Luke Luffman tried to explain.

“It’s hot in school,” he said Thursday, sporting khaki shorts in the high school cafeteria. “I’m a big kid, and I get hot easy.”Blog Photo

Granted, temperatures climbed above 50 that afternoon, but he’d been wearing shorts all week. Including the 7-degree day.

“My walk from my brother’s car to the high school is short enough, maybe 50 feet,” he said.

Just one out of six students at his table, in fact, wore a coat that day, a percentage that held true across the cafeteria. The rest? Hoodies, or nothing.

“I’m just walking from my car to school. It’s not very far,” said junior Savannah McQueen, and her coatless friends agreed.

Junior Sara Odeh was an exception. She wears a “thick jacket” because she has to walk nearly a mile to get home.

That’s the general pattern, says Urbana principal Matt Stark, who fights the same battles with his own two teens.

Students who have to walk to school, or ride bikes, or wait outside in the cold for a bus, tend to be more practical, he said. It’s the ones who drive or get dropped off who can make the dash into school with no extra layers.

Stark gives them a hard time when he stands outside greeting students before school (after checking to make sure the student in question actually has a coat; the school supplies one if there’s a need).Blog Photo

“They make these things called coats,” he tells students passing by. Or, “What if we have a fire drill where we have to evacuate the building so we have to stand outside?”

His favorite line last year: “That white stuff on the ground is not sand. Maybe a real set of shoes would be good instead of flip-flips with socks.”

“Some of them don’t want a bulky coat to deal with,” he said. “Sometimes you ask, ‘Do you have a coat?’ And they say, ‘Yeah, it’s in my car, I don’t want to bring it into school.’ ”

Chris Luffman, a dean at Urbana (and Luke’s dad), calls it a need to “travel light.” One less thing to forget.

“We frequently have kids who have to go back to class because they walked off and left their coat on the back of a chair,” he said.

He recalled the “Seinfeld” episode where George’s puffy winter coat knocks over some wine bottles in a liquor story (with the usual complicated back story about an ill-fated invitation to a dinner party).

“Some of our classrooms are kind of small,” Luffman said. “When you get 30 kids and their bookbags full of books and their coats, it can get pretty tight.”

And lockers are just not cool. My son lugged around his 60-pound backpack without using his locker once during his freshman year. I’m not sure he ever memorized his combination.

Athletes and other students who have to bring extra gear to school for sports use them, but lots of kids don’t, says Urbana junior Amanda Lindsay.

“If we have backpacks, there’s really no need to,” she said.

Passing periods of four minutes (or less at some schools) make it hard to get to your locker and socialize, and most students choose the latter, Chris Luffman said.

“I just don’t use it,” said Urbana junior Jazmyn Saffron Schmidt. “There’s not enough time between classes.”

Luffman said his locker is on the third floor, and his classes are on the first and second floor, “so it’s out of the way.”

“It’s a lot easier to carry all your stuff around,” agreed sophomore Marissa Mann.Blog Photo

And some students like to sleep in, I’m told, so they time their arrival to school as late as possible without being tardy. Lockers just add an unnecessary step.

It turns out anti-lockerism is part of a national trend. As schools turn to more online materials for classes, kids have fewer textbooks to lug around. Some schools in other states are even being designed without traditional hallway lockers because they’re not being used.

“When I was in school you had a textbook for every class. With electronics and the Web and smartphones and everything else, there’s a lot of stuff you can get online,” Stark said.

Back when Stark was in school, and even earlier in his career, students used lockers all the time. They decorated the inside with pictures of friends or summer vacations, and students hung things on the outside for big games or other events.

Today, “you look down the hallway, and there’s occasionally something on the outside of a locker,” Stark said, but overall “you just don’t see that.”


Julie Wurth blogs about kids and families for The News-Gazette. Leave a comment below, or contact her at 217-351-5226, or


Top:  Urbana High School freshman Luke Luffman dons shorts in the school cafetera on Jan. 14, 2016. Julie Wurth/News-Gazette

Middle: Students leave the high school in short sleeves and light jackets on Jan. 14, 2016. Robin Scholz/News-Gazette

Bottom: Luffman talks about lockers with Marissa Mann, left, and Alexis Davis at lunch. Julie Wurth/News-Gazette

Sections (1):Living
Topics (2):Education, People


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rsp wrote on January 19, 2016 at 10:01 am

Sounds like the school could save a little money on that heat bill, adjust the thermostat. Kids are all saying they're hot.