Running in the 'Meda: To P.E. or not to P.E.?
Running in the 'Meda: To P.E. or not to P.E.?
Last week at the school board meeting, the high school physical education (P.E.) requirement was discussed. Much of the discussion about broadening students' ability to gain an exemption from taking a second year of P.E. (now available only to athletes engaged in school sports) covered details of the state and Alameda Unified School District requirements. Should we be requiring our young people to exercise and to learn about fitness - "mandating health" as one of the board members called it?
This is a very challenging issue in our society, in which so many young people are drawn to sedentary activities, like computer games. Everyone knows that exercising throughout life is a good thing, yet so many people find themselves grown adults with health problems that likely could have been avoided if they had exercised regularly. Many regular exercisers started when they were young, so it certainly seems logical that getting young people interested in exercising will lead them to continue exercising as adults.
But who should be responsible for developing this habit of exercising (and enjoying it!). Schools? Or should it be parents?
I think the only answer is "both." If we leave it to the schools, our young people will find a way to diminish what they learn in P.E. Everyone has heard a teenager say something like "P.E. is, like, so dumb." Even though they may feel that way, they are actually learning something. They probably just don't want to admit it because "it's not cool" to enjoy exercising and to learn about the importance of exercise.
One way for parents to help is to take an interest. Ask what they did in P.E. today. Even if they say something negative, our interest will tell them that we think it's important. They do get tested, both on written materials they have to learn and on physical fitness - ask how their test went. Ask what a "pacer" is, and how many they were able to do.
As a parent myself, I know that raising a teenager is challenging at times. Parents are taught to "pick your battles." Unfortunately, the "battle" of getting kids away from electronic stimuli and outside exercising is not one that parents are choosing to take on. But instead of just saying "Get off the computer," we can model the behavior we want to see from them by exercising ourselves.
Try this: Invite them out to exercise with you. Going for a bike ride? Make it a family ride. You don't have an exercise regimen yourself? Then at least take them out for a walk around the neighborhood after dinner a few times a week. I always recommend to the high schoolers I know that they should take a break from studying and go for a walk for 15 or 20 or 30 minutes. Presto: exercise!
What about the P.E. requirement? Should it be abolished? Reduced? Increased? Would I change anything about it if I could? I do think having some requirement for all students to take P.E. is a good idea, as long as it is supported by parents like I mentioned above. I don't know if it needs to be the current two years or if it should be more or less. I also think the academic component of our schools' P.E. programs is important and often overlooked. That is, combining the "why" of exercising with the "how" is a clear step toward long-term good health.
On the other hand, the physical part of P.E. is probably not needed for students playing an interscholastic sport. One idea would be to have a separate classroom component that student-athletes could take to address the academic component of P.E., since they are already getting plenty of exercise training for their sport(s).
Another challenge of including P.E. in the schools' curriculum is that P.E. takes up a class period that some students would prefer to use for an academic class because of their goals of getting into certain colleges. There are currently ways around this, like taking P.E. during zero period. If kids are motivated enough, they can find a way to make it work.
There are likely many opinions in the community about high school P.E., and now is as good a time as any to discuss it. Hopefully, we can find a way to get our young people to want to exercise from now throughout their lives so that we can have a healthier and happier society.
Marty Beene, a National Academy of Sports Medicine certified personal trainer and specialist in senior fitness and fitness nutrition, is owner of Be The Runner; he trains adults of all abilities individually and in groups. An assistant coach of track and cross-country at Alameda High School, he can be reached at marty@BeTheRunner.com.