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Opinion: The District Should Eliminate Online P.E.

5 mins read

After freshman year, students are given the option to pay to take an online course in order to fulfill their Physical Education (P.E.) credit requirements. Of 31 juniors surveyed who had taken online P.E., 61% said they had cheated and 74% said it would be either “very easy” or “somewhat easy to cheat.” A student who took Weight Training through BYU said, “It was just an honor system. We filled out this long log to submit at the end of the course, but there was no way for them to verify anything. It was extremely easy to cheat. I think most people cheat, and it would be surprising if you could find someone who actually did it.”

Providing the option to take P.E. online only benefits students who can afford the courses and the high fees of club sports and leaves others behind. Instead, the District should require students to take P.E. at M-A—or encourage those who don’t to join an M-A sports team.

While they can fulfill the requirement through many programs, most students opt to take an online P.E. class through BYU—the program recommended by M-A—which charges $200 per 0.5 credit hours. This means that students have to pay $400 to fulfill the requirements that one year of P.E. normally would. 70% of students surveyed said they had taken it through BYU.

BYU offers courses like Bowling, Fitness for Living Well, Lifetime Weight Control, and Golf, which don’t require students to complete any actual physical activity, only to submit written assignments.

The log for BYU’s Walking fitness class

Even classes like Aerobics, Cycling, Fitness for Sports and Recreation, Jogging for Fitness, Intermediate Swimming, Tennis, Walking Fitness, and Weight Training, which require students to fill out a workout log, don’t allow BYU to verify that students have actually done any physical activity, so it’s easy for students to skip the physical activity portion of the courses.

Some students opt to take these courses alongside playing a sport outside of school. These students often spend hours training before or after school each day. They opt to take P.E. online because they don’t have time to participate in a sport at M-A and want an extra free period in their schedule. The student said, “I signed up because I needed the credit, but I’m doing a sport outside of school that’s about 15 hours a week, so I was already working out way more than they asked me to.”

However, these students are an exception, and many students who take P.E. online don’t play any sports. Because of how easy it is to cheat, they don’t have any regularly scheduled exercise which poses risks to both their physical and mental health.

The high price tag of these classes also bars many students from being able to take them. Moreover, a lack of advertising means that students from Hillview or La Entrada, who have friends or siblings who have taken online P.E., are much more likely not to take P.E. at M-A. 39% of 80 students surveyed said they found out about the option to take P.E. online through a friend, and 29% said they didn’t know it was an option.

This means that—just as they are in nearly every other subject—students are funneled into tracks. All but five of the 31 juniors surveyed who said they had taken P.E. online were white or Asian and only two had attended Cesar Chavez for middle school.

 P.E. gives students an opportunity to get to know people who might not be in all their other classes, since P.E.—even more than English or Chemistry—is a class that relies on collaboration. If more students were encouraged to take school sports rather than taking P.E. online, these sports could serve that role as well.

P.E. gives students an opportunity to get to know people who might not be in all their other classes, since P.E.—even more than English or Chemistry—is a class that relies on collaboration.

Students are missing out on a key aspect of operating as well-rounded human beings in society when they only interact with people who come from similar backgrounds. 

Aside from increasing the diversity of classes, P.E. offers intrinsic benefits because it forces students to take a break from the stress of daily life, often involving spending time outdoors and interacting with other people. Something that, even when done properly, online P.E. fails to provide for the many students who don’t also participate in a sport.

My freshman year of P.E. was during distance learning and, even though I was one of the few people who actually did all of the workouts, I didn’t gain much from doing core workouts in a small room by myself. After I joined the cross-country team halfway through the year, it was easier to focus in school, and I noticed a significant improvement in my overall mental health. It forced me to take a break from constantly focusing on academics and made me spend more than just fifteen minutes a day exercising.

Though we are no longer in distance learning, the fact remains that no one can spend all of their time studying without getting burnt out. At a school like M-A where so many people obsess over trying to have the best possible grades and most impressive extracurricular activities, it’s important not to fill students’ schedules with only academic subjects as early as sophomore year. While students could opt to take art or other less academic subjects and could choose to work out on their own, many won’t, and making them take P.E. can help reduce the odds of them getting burnt out.

11 of 14 studies found a positive correlation between P.E. and academic performance, and none of the studies showed any negative correlations between P.E. and academic performance even though students had less time to spend on studying or taking extra classes.

P.E. also helps students perform better academically in the short term. In a meta-analysis of studies on the relationship between school-based physical activity and academic performance conducted by researchers from the CDC, 11 of 14 studies found a positive correlation between P.E. and academic performance, and none of the studies showed any negative correlations between P.E. and academic performance even though students had less time to spend on studying or taking extra classes.

A study by the National Institute of Health (NIH) found that “basic cognitive functions related to attention and memory facilitate learning, and these functions are enhanced by physical activity and higher aerobic fitness.”

Another NIH study found that physical activity “can improve mental health by decreasing and preventing conditions such as anxiety and depression, as well as improving mood and other aspects of well-being.”

While P.E. certainly has its flaws—students often feel uncomfortable when they aren’t able to keep up with more athletic peers, are objectified, or are forced to change with peers who don’t share the same gender identity—these are issues that should be addressed at an individual level rather than eliminating P.E. requirements entirely. The basic structure of online P.E. prevents it from giving students the exercise and social interactions that are provided by traditional P.E. and that they need in order to succeed.

There’s a reason the state requires students to get four P.E. credits to graduate high school. Everyone should have access to a class that will likely ultimately benefit them in the long run.

Cleo is a senior in her third year of journalism. She enjoys writing about issues impacting the M-A community, particularly environmental issues. She is also on the M-A cross-country and track teams.

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