Student Spotlight: Why My Backpack Weighs Twenty Pounds, by Jack Dozier

As adults and teachers, we spend a lot of time trying to convince our students why reading is meaningful, exciting, and worth their time. And if we’re not careful, we end up doing more talking than we do listening. In my first ever guest post, 14-year-old Jack discusses his identity as a reader, how books have impacted his life, and why his backpack weighs twenty pounds.

You can learn more about Jack in his bio at the bottom of this post.


Imagine you are having the worst day ever. At breakfast, you spill your smoothie all over
your last pair of clean shorts. You get to school and find out you have a math test you forgot about. Your sports equipment? Driving away in your parent’s car. And worst of all, lunch is something gross. So what do you do with this terrible day? You could try to time travel out of middle school, or you could pull a book out of your backpack and, in a second, be living a whole different day.

Have you ever wanted to be teleported into someone else’s world in a matter of seconds? Know exactly what someone else is thinking? Or be in a different time or universe? I have a top­secret methodology I will share with you. All you have to do is pick up a book and read.

Whether that means reading Nation in English class, The Odyssey in Ms. Beckwith’s class, or obsessively reading Ghost, by Jason Reynolds, at home before bed, for me, books have always been a way to live many lives beyond my own. Reading has been my favorite hobby for as long as I can remember, and I may forget my sports equipment, my chapel clothes, and the occasional test, but I never forget to have a book with me. Anyone who has dared to pick up my backpack knows I often have three or four (or ten) books with me, because I never want to be without a new one to read.

When I first learned to read, I liked to stack all of the books I read on the floor next to my bed. At the very bottom of the pile was the first book I had ever read on my own, Old Hat, New Hat, by Stan and Jan Berenstain, which I still keep on my bedside table. My pile grew bigger and bigger and often fell over, which was very annoying to the people who lived in the apartment below us in New York. Between preschool and first grade, my pile grew until the summer before second grade, when my family moved to Charlottesville and the pile had to disappear into a moving box. When we got to Virginia, I decided that, instead of making a pile, I would write down each book I read, which would take up less space (and not be as dusty.) One notebook became two notebooks (also with some
scribbles in it by my younger brother), and when I got to fourth grade, I began to keep my List of Books on a computer.

Keeping track of all the books I have ever read has allowed me to see how I have grown through reading over the past six years. It shows my different interests and how my viewpoint has changed.

In second grade, I was obsessed with Harry Potter. All I read for almost the entire second ­grade year was the Harry Potter series. Ms. Scott would gently try to encourage me to branch out and maybe give Percy Jackson a try, but I was definitely Team Rowling. Thankfully, by third grade, I had run out of Harry Potters, and Mr. Hancock introduced me to how fun it could be to read non­fiction. My List of Books from third grade is filled with biographies of people from Walt Disney to Steve Jobs. In fourth through sixth grade, I took a deep dive into fantasy and realistic fiction, but in seventh and eighth grade, I have mostly been interested in books about social justice. Books like Ghost Boys, Dear Martin, The Hate U Give, and On the Come Up are works of fiction inspired by news events, and they inspired me to read the newspaper and follow what is happening in the news. Books have involved me in community discussions about challenging topics, like race and inequality, and given me opportunities to meet students from other schools, and even meet Angie Thomas, the author of one of my favorite books, The Hate U Give. My taste in books recorded in my List of Books is a very clear picture of how I have changed over the past six years, but particularly in my years in middle school.

In middle school, my reading has not just been about words on pages. In seventh grade, a group of friends and I who liked to hang out in the library noticed that there were lots of jobs we could do to help Ms. FitzHenry. So we founded STAB’s Library Intern Program. What began as a small group of five or six students has grown into a group of thirty­two students, all of whom are excited to work in the library before school each day. The Library Intern Program at St. Anne’s­Belfield School aims to help introduce more students to the behind­the­scenes work at the library. (That would be our mission statement if we had one … ) Not only has the Library Intern Program given people who love books a way to help out at the library and help their school, it has also given people a way to make friends with students in other grades who also like books. As a leader of the Library Intern Program, I have learned to run complicated schedules, hire people, motivate people and host fun activities and meetings. It has been a lot of work and a big part of my middle­school experience but has been a great way to build a group of kids across grades who share the common interest of reading. The STAB library has never been more crowded, more busy, more decorated and more noisy, but luckily we have a school librarian who likes it that way.

During the third trimester, I led a Quest called How Can We Level the Playing Field for
Children in Charlottesville? The goal of this Quest, which I co­-led with Ms. Cox and Ms. FitzHenry, was to make books and playgrounds accessible to all children in Charlottesville. In fourteen Quest meetings, my Quest group designed and built two Little Free Libraries to give to the Charlottesville community, and ran a book drive at STAB where we collected over 400 books. One of the Little Free Libraries my Quest is building will be installed at the Virginia Discovery Museum on the Downtown Mall, where people from all reading and income levels visit. My hope is many of the kids who visit the Discovery Museum will take books and see the Little Free Library as a fun resource for them. I have read many articles about how reading books and having books in your home can help kids learn and be successful in life, and I hope the books from the Little Free Library will inspire other kids like they have inspired me.

If we are sharing books and ideas as a community, we all will grow.

Without books, sometimes I think I might be a boring person. Books have made me think, given me new ideas, caused me to act, and most importantly, have brought me to my closest friends. In my time in middle school, books have become more than a hobby for me. They show me the history of who I used to be through my List of Books. They also show me how I can make my school a better (and more social) place through the Library Intern Program. And, they have given me a way to do something helpful in the community outside of STAB, in Charlottesville, by leading my Leveling the Playing Field Quest. Reading has changed me in middle school, and I expect it will continue to change me. I might swap out my heavy backpack for an e-­reader someday, but books will
always be by my side.

IMG_2359 Jack Dozier is a rising ninth grader at St. Anne’s Belfield School in Charlottesville, Virginia. An avid reader, he estimates that he has read over a thousand books in his lifetime. In Eighth Grade, with the partnership of his school librarian and art teacher, Jack taught a class to 7th and 8th grade peers in which students designed and built two Little Free Libraries for community organizations and ran a book drive in which they collected over 600 books. In high school, Jack plans to continue to think of creative ways to share his love of reading.

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