New and Vacant: The Great Locker Mystery

The sad life of the boxy red lockers at New Canaan High School.

Life is infinitely stranger than anything which the mind of man could invent —  Sherlock Holmes

Ah, I love a good mystery and there’s an unsolved teaser that involves a copious number of teenagers in New Canaan:  The Case of the Unused Lockers at New Canaan High School

Think of the American teenager and it’s easy to conger up images of those high school days when kids would hang at their lockers swapping books and a few moments of social time. The locker was like an island in a sea of hormonal adolescence; a safe harbor to throw anchor and step away from the toils of the classroom. Like a scene out of The Breakfast Club or Glee, the ever-present locker is as American as apple pie.

Confusion and shock were the first emotions that came to me when I learned that the majority of lockers at NCHS go unused. My high school career flashed before my eyes, imagining four long years without my beloved locker. Yes I was relegated to the technology wing of my school’s basement, but I didn’t mind. It was my “hood” and my locker mates became my friends. I took solace in my dark corner.  It was unique real estate considering I got a daily display of flying sparks from the blowtorches in the nearby shop class.

Unused lockers? Huh? I was thoroughly mystified. What was wrong with these teens? Not only did it fly in the face of practicality but it was deeply disturbing my sense of tradition. So I set out to find the truth, solve the mystery, and rescue these lockers from an empty life of disuse, all the while hoping to restore these metal giants to their rightful place in the Great American Story.

Much to the horror of my children, I decided to play junior detective. I stepped outside at 7 a.m. on a brisk March morning with my camera and notebook in hand.  With the sun barely rising, the neighborhood kids started their daily march to school, making their way up through our backyard. I stopped them to weigh their backpacks. At 21.5 pounds, 20.5 pounds, and 22 pounds, these bags were heavy and that’s not accounting for the extra sports bags the kids carry. Even though the temperature hovered around freezing, these teenagers wore little, not wanting to add any more weight to their already heavy load. I walked and carried my daughter’s backpack for about 10 minutes and happily passed it on to her, wishing her and her back well.

Soon my sleuthing led me to the office of Principal Tony Pavia. He gave me a little insight into the new large red lockers that adorn the high school.

“When this building was under construction we assembled a team of students to consult with us on lockers and why kids didn’t use lockers," he said. "The conclusion was the tall and skinny ones were obsolete since those were in the days before backpacks."

The students proposed shorter and wider lockers and those are the ones the school has today.   

Pavia smiled when he reported that the new lockers haven’t changed a thing.

This information only deepened the mystery for me, so I took to the halls of the high school to find out what really was going on. Armed with a stopwatch and my daughter’s schedule, I set out to debunk the myth that there wasn’t enough time between classes to get to the lockers. 

I chose one of the longer distances to tackle: Global History to Orchestra. Giving myself a generous two minutes to idle at the locker, I still made it to class in less than five minutes. 

Pavia agreed. “You have to, at some point in the day, pass your locker where you could make a clear swap with your things," he said. 

He even suggested going during a triple lunch. In a nutshell, time and opportunity  exist to use the lockers.  

My prime suspect was eliminated, but I still had a mystery to solve.  As I walked the school halls, I couldn’t help but feel sorry for these metal boxes. They look like little empty tombstones all in a row, marking the passing of an era. Hauntingly, some of their doors are left ajar like gaping mouths begging the passersby “please use me."

Pavia has his own theory about the lockers. He believes that the locker is not a convenient social meeting place for the kids and that they have more attractive alternatives to steal social time — in the cafeteria, near the atrium, and in the back halls. 

Feeling even more baffled, I continued my trek through the corridors and I was struck by the paradoxical image before me. A wall of vacant lockers stood just feet away from a mountain of backpacks piled outside a classroom. It was then that I realized our children have morphed into turtles; their backpacks have become their shells. So now that they can strap on their portable homes, why would they ever store them when they can just simply wear them? 

While my conjecture is far from the cold hard facts needed to crack this case, I’d like to think that this puzzle has more to do with the mysteries of youth than those of lockers.  Teenagers are enigmas and so are their actions.   And while this answer may not please Sherlock Holmes, he might think it wise to hire Dr. Watson as the school’s resident chiropractor to solve the next whodunit: The Strange Case of The Broken Back.



Sam April 14, 2011 at 02:21 AM
I'm a student at NCHS and I support everything that was said in the article. In middle school, Saxe specifically, it was different because we had most of our rooms within a close vicinity. Also, teachers did not permit backpacks in the rooms. We liked using our lockers for the same reasons the author mentioned. They were our own personal hub that we could do with as we saw fit, much like most teens and their rooms. We also used the time to socialize because our classes were right next to us and there was no bell to officially mark us on time or tardy. In the high school, however, I feel like a lot of students (myself included) always like to have certain items with them, including various electronics, planners, etc that we wouldn't want left in a locker. Also, a lot of us simply want to get from chair A to chair B via the shortest route. (One article in the Courant referred to the the first period passing time students as a "Mob of glassy-eyed zombies") I'll let you decide whether this is due to laziness or convenience, or both. I'm also curious as to whether or not the author did her timed walk during passing time. She is correct in saying that it is easy to essentially walk across the school in five minutes with time to spare. However, we also have to finish scribbling down homework while shoving books in our bags. During passing time traveling in some of the crowded hallways can take forever, especially outside of the library. Very well written article :)


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