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Independent Study Physical Education program requires modification

Screen Shot 2017-01-21 at 8.40.04 PMTo ensure students have enough time to balance rest, schoolwork, and sports, the Independent Study Physical Education program at Palo Alto High School should be remedied and offered for all sports, not just for sports not offered at Paly.

By making it easier to apply for the program and offering it for all sports, students would be healthier both mentally and physically. Students would also have a better-balanced life.

Along with the qualification that a student must play a sport not offered at Paly, he or she must have played the sport for three years prior to applying for Independent Study PE. The student must train year-round for a minimum of 15 hours a week, five to six days a week.

However, simply meeting all these standards is not enough to get an Independent Study prep. One must also go through a rigorous application process. This process needs to be easier for all students to apply in order to prevent any student from being deterred from applying. Sophomore Kat Merk has been riding horses since she was seven years old. She trains with her coach three to four hours a day, six to seven days a week. For her, the process of applying for Independent Study PE was long and difficult.

“I was very surprised at how lengthy [the Independent Study PE application process] was because I feel like a signature from the coach would be enough,” Merk said. “I had to prove that I had been working with her for a certain amount of time, I had to pull out paperwork of contracts, I had to prove that I had been to competitions. It was a little bit too much.”

Students in tenth grade at Palo Alto Unified School District schools that have successfully completed ninth grade Physical Education have the option of applying for Independent Study Physical Education, according to the Paly course catalog. A student in Independent Study PE is given a prep period for the entire year instead of taking a PE class. 

Paly offers cross country, water polo, football, golf, girls’ volleyball, basketball, soccer, wrestling, baseball, lacrosse, swimming and diving, badminton, softball, track as well as cheer and dance. Therefore, students participating in any of these sports are not eligible for Independent Study.

According to PE teacher and Independent Study program head Peter Diepenbrock, there is a specific reason students in Paly sports are not eligible for an Independent Study PE prep.

“[The purpose of Independent Study PE] is to give students that have been involved in a sport for many years and have dedicated a good portion of their lives to their sport, an opportunity to continue that sport. Students [playing a Paly sport cannot get a prep] because if you play a Paly sport, you already have an opportunity to get a prep for it.”

Some may argue that this makes sense. However, sports seasons are only a few months long at most. Students that are dedicated to their sport devote hours of their time in the off-season to training. Anyone playing a sport at a high level has hours of practice a day and trains almost every day of the week. Students spend all this time to improve at their sport so that when they go back to their Paly team, the Paly team is stronger.

According to PE teacher David Duran, the purpose of PE is to get exercise and socialize with peers. PE helps maintain physical health through exercise and mental health with socialization.

“Our philosophy is [that] we want you to come and learn a skill, learn some social skills, burn some calories,” Duran said. “PE, for the most part, is a very social class, so there is a lot of interaction, unlike some other classes. And for the long range, [our hope] is that you actually value exercise, and 50 years from now you are still active and exercising because there are benefits both for your body and mind to be physically fit,” Duran said.

Though I agree with the goals and intents of PE as outlined by Duran, students who already play sports do not need PE to achieve those goals. A student who does over 15 hours of exercise a week clearly understands the value of exercise. While practicing a sport, they learn new skills, socialize, and burn calories. If they are already fulfilling these PE goals, they gain no benefit from taking part in PE.

According to the Paly PE syllabus, the three standards for PE are to:

  • “Demonstrate knowledge and competency in motor skills, movement patterns, and strategies needed to perform a variety of physical activities.”
  • “Achieve a level of physical fitness for health and performance while demonstrating knowledge of fitness concepts, principles, and strategies.”
  • “Demonstrate knowledge of psychological and sociological concepts, principles, and strategies as they apply to learning and performance of physical activity.”

Through playing any sport, a student automatically engages in all of these standards. Playing a sport with the dedication of 15 hours a week means that a student has competent motor skills and movement abilities. They are physically fit and understand fitness concepts as they apply to their specific sport, but also athletics in general. Through coaching, they learn how psychological and sociological concepts affect their sport. It is unfair to assume that a student participating in a non-Paly sport automatically fulfills these criteria if they fulfill the ones required for an Independent Study prep, but a student playing a Paly sport doesn’t.

A critical reason why students should be given an Independent Study prep for any sport that takes 15 hours per week is because students need the time to work on homework and study. Students agree that this prep is vital to their ability to succeed in schoolwork. Students such as Merk agree.

“[An Independent Study prep] gives you more time to focus on your academics and doesn’t take away from your physical education because you’re doing plenty after school,” said Merk.

Playing a sport is a time-consuming activity. One must factor in not only the length of practice and competitions, but also time for activities such as transport and showering. While students who play 15 hours of sports a week already struggle to fit all of this into their schedule, students without a prep find it even more difficult. Without time during their prep to meet with teachers, work on homework, or study, students may fall behind in their classes. In order to combat this, students have to stay up later at night to work on schoolwork. According to a study conducted at the Harvard-Westlake School, getting less than eight hours of sleep a night is the biggest predictor of injury for high school athletes and a quarter of athletes who are injured miss at least a week of playing time.

From a study conducted at the Harvard-Westlake school.
From a study conducted at the Harvard-Westlake school.

Independent Study preps are essential to Paly students because it is unhealthy to constantly demand so much from these already over-achieving student athletes. A student’s health should be their primary concern, and they should not have to sacrifice it to play a sport and do well in school.

Sophomore Sydney Liu is an avid softball player. Getting sleep and rest is the main reason she wants an Independent Study prep; however, because she plays softball, she cannot get one.

“People always say that students should get a minimum of eight hours of sleep,” Liu said. “It’s kind of hard to do that when I spend a total of four hours almost every day traveling and practicing for [my] sport. Getting that extra hour and a half to do homework during school hours would really help me prevent going to bed at 12 every night.”

Consequently, while PE is a necessary class to keep students in shape, students who already do 15 hours of a sport outside of school should not be required to partake in it and should be given the option to easily apply for an Independent Study prep. This prep would keep help maintain both the physical and mental health of students. Additionally, because all sports are physically demanding and time-consuming, there should be no restriction on which sport a student must play in order to qualify for Independent Study PE.

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About the Contributor
Soumya Jhaveri
Soumya Jhaveri, Editor-in-Chief
Soumya was previously the Voice's News Editor. Her journalism work outside of Voice involves serving as the Editor-in-Chief of [proof] magazine; serving as president of SCOOP, a club fostering diversity in journalism; presentations at NorCal Media Day and the national journalism convention about diversity in journalism and an audio piece for KQED on student health and safety. In her free time, Soumya enjoys competing on Paly's tennis team, playing in an orchestra and drinking boba.

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