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Life in the backpack

Things can get pretty sticky and smelly

Chris Puglia
Northern News Services

Yellowknife (Aug 30/02) - School supplies neatly packed, folded shirts, shoes and other common school supplies.

That may be what you will find in the typical brand-new student backpack during the first week of school.

But later in the year these two-shoulder, strapped inventions that turn students into pack animals become a re-creation of the environment under most 12-year-old's beds. Junk, CDs and rotting food are not uncommon in these dark abysses. Students admit their packs rarely get cleaned until the end of the year or they fall apart from the shear weight they are forced to bear -- whatever comes first.

"My old backpack was ripped and torn apart and it was filled with sticky juice," said Peter Boggis, 12, a student at Weledeh Catholic School.

Boggis also remembers a time he was having pancakes for lunch. "I spilled maple syrup all over my books. It took a long time to clean up."

Classmate Danielle Ramm, 12, admits she almost never cleans out her bag until it is so crammed full of junk she can't fit anything more inside.

"My old one didn't last me that long. One arm was broken off," she said. When she finally ventured inside to clean out the bags mysterious contents, she found a surprise. "I found a rotten apple."

Jesse Ross, 13, says he needs a new backpack every year due to the abuse one goes through during the school season. "They are usually all ripped up. One time, last year, a pop blew up inside," he said.

Not all student's bags are havens for toxic waste and school junk, however.

Chi Nguyen, 10, says she can't recall anything too unusual ever coming out of her bag. "I clean my bag out about every three months," she said. According to these four students the bags that are the most popular are the ones that don't have a lot of bright colours or logos.

And, of course, can hold a lot. For safety's sake, don't overload a child's knapsack, advised Stanton Hospital physiotherapist Nicole Terrier.

"It's usually recommended bags be no heavier than 10 per cent of the child's weight," she said.