Since the start of the pandemic, the lives of people across the world have been drastically changed: jobs lost, distancing from loved ones, and accommodations made for this very different year. Students have been shut in their houses, secluded to a life dependent on screens and uncomfortable chairs. Despite this, or maybe because of it, it’s important that we focus on our wellbeing and mental health.
Physical education (PE) has played an important role in Berkeley Unified School District’s (BUSD) curriculum: helping students stay healthy. Berkeley High School’s (BHS) current PE requirement system calls for students to be on a school team, or participate in five hours of physical activity each week, either in a structured athletic program or a state sponsored team. To graduate, students must have four semesters of PE credit.
However, due to the pandemic, this is not a realistic standard for students to meet this year. Because of the lack of clarity that the school has communicated on this topic, instead of helping, PE requirements only add to stress and confusion in students’ lives. For this school year, or until school is back to ‘normal,’ BHS should count the PE credit students have been earning, but encourage exercise rather than enforce it, so that students understand what’s going on and so that it will not add to the mound of stress that some are already facing.
In other words, the school should make PE credit optional this year for seniors, similarly to the way that some colleges have made tests like the SAT optional for applicants. Many colleges have recognized that this year isn’t normal, and therefore accommodations must be made in order to allow student success. Similarly, BHS should give the option of PE credit, while not requiring it for all students, given the extra stresses and complications this year has given us all. Eliminating that requirement for graduating seniors takes that extra complication away, while still encouraging physical activity.
Because students are spending a lot more time indoors to keep others safe, it’s likely that many are getting less exercise. Aerobic activity in this time is important; it is extremely beneficial to both mental and physical health, and BHS should still encourage students to stay fit. Programs or free workout videos could be offered to students in order to maintain the principle that staying active can keep you healthy. Encouragement rather than a requirement will take stress away, while still guiding students to a healthy lifestyle.
While in normal years, this requirement was doable for most students, it has strayed into murky waters this year because the pandemic has vastly reduced PE opportunities. This has the potential to cause confusion and anxiety for students because they may not know where they could get PE credits with many non-school teams closed, and the future of BHS sports uncertain. While the school has provided opportunities such as the YMCA PE waiver and the option to join a sports team, communication has been unclear on where the credit requirement has changed due to the limited choices for students to participate in.
So much has changed since March 13, 2020, and so many accommodations have been made for this far from normal school year. It’s important that we all prioritize staying healthy and happy. By motivating students to partake in exercise rather than requiring them to, we wouldn’t be abandoning the idea that physical education is important, but rather would be allowing students who have a lot on their plate to have one less thing to worry about.