Option II: weighing the pros and cons

PRO: Option II provides student athletes with the ability to keep up with schoolwork

The debate as to whether or not students should be required to take physical education is ongoing. According to the State of New Jersey Department of Education, “Option II serves as an alternative to traditional high school courses and involves in-­depth experiences that may be provided by school district personnel or instructors not employed by the school district.” In other words, Option II would provide school districts the opportunity to implement certain programs, which if taken, would exempt students from the P.E. requirement; for example, a student who plays sports would be able to opt out of gym class.

Option II provides athletes with the opportunity to make up work that they are unable to complete due to practice after school. Most sports end as late as 6:00 p.m., causing a loss of studying time. Thus the stress of having to cope with both school and sports may actually push students away from participating in any after-school sports. Adding the incentive of having a free period instead of P.E. would encourage students to take up sports, increasing the amount of time students spend being active.

Comparatively, the two or more hours an athlete spends on the field is more beneficial than the 30 minutes a student spends in P.E. class. In fact, some students purposely waste their time in P.E. because they would rather expend their energy later, playing their sport. With obesity growing in the United States, students should be encouraged to spend more time being active. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services says that an inactive lifestyle is a leading cause of weight gain. However, according to NBC News, students are only active for 16 minutes out of the allocated time in P.E. class.

Most sports emphasize a holistic approach to the body. From weightlifting to running, coaches mold their athletes into all-around healthy individuals. Creating a system where students are encouraged to adopt such a practice would increase their overall fitness. The current P.E. curriculum, however, focuses on only one aspect of the body per term. For example, students may participate in running for a whole quarter but may not engage in any weight-lifting. Thus a more comprehensive routine will combat obesity and increase student health.

While some students may not reach a high level of success in their respective sports, participating in athletics will certainly develop good habits that will prepare students to become active adults. Encouraging students to begin a sport has the added benefit of creating a culture wherein they learn to love their activity. It would be unfortunate if a student had to miss out on great experiences in high school, such as excelling in and loving a sport. An athletic passion fosters a regular exercise routine and as students grow into young adults, such a routine is needed in order to maintain good health.

Team sports bring students together, help students make more friends, and make them well-rounded individuals. Valuable opportunities like these will be missed out on without Option II, which provides students a way to spend more time being active and to stay caught up in school.

Graphics: Aileen Wu

Graphics: Aileen Wu


CON: physical education provides students with opportunity to try new sports

Several schools in New Jersey, such as Bridgewater High School, West Windsor-Plainsboro High Schools North and South, Cherry Hill High School, and Phillipsburg High School have undertaken the program known as N.J.A.C. 6A:8-5.1(a)1ii, commonly known as Option II. According to the NJ Department of Education, this program is designed to tweak high school students’ graduation requirements. There are many forms of Option II which include the choice of taking a free period in place of physical education, taking summer courses, doing community service, taking college courses, participating in theme-based training, studying abroad, learning online, and turning extracurriculars into co-curriculars.

According to the NJ Department of Education, all courses must be accredited and approved by the school before a student can enter the program. Although there are several forms of Option II listed above, a form that many schools focus on is giving students that partake in a school sport the choice to replace Physical Education with either a free period or another course, in or outside of school.

Increased exercise benefits everyone. The N.J.S.A.18A:35 mandate, a standard in the New Jersey Core Curriculum Content adopted in 1917, requires that all pupils from grades 1–12 participate in two and a half hours of health, safety, and physical education per week. A study by Cornell University showed that increasing hours of physical education in schools reduces obesity; in the study, an additional hour per week of exercise translated into a five percent decrease in the likelihood of obesity among students. Even to the athletes, without mandatory attendance in gym class, the amount of time that they are going to be active would decrease, and they can’t receive the benefits that more hours of PE would bring in regards to staying fit.

Moreover, gym class is used as a way to expose more students to other sports and activities. This exposure can be enough to spark a new interest or discovery of skills in another sport.

“[Physical education] also means exposure to different activities and possibilities of something that might click,” said gym teacher Sheryl Severance. “A lot of students miss this because they specialize in one thing and don’t try all of the other elements.” For those who specialize in one sport, the removal of gym class would eliminate the ability to experience the unique benefits that the course offers, such as participation in a variety of sports and exercises.

In addition, there are several benefits that are linked to increased physical activity that are made more accessible by not enabling Option II. According to The New York Times, not only does gym class provide students an opportunity to decrease fatigue, mitigate the issue regarding obesity in adolescents, and increase coordination, social skills, problem solving, and attention span, but it also would mean one period in which students can relax. With Option II, students might feel pressured to take extra courses in order to increase their chance of getting into good colleges. In doing so, students would be piling on extra courses, creating more stress, and further harming their overall health.

“We’re seeing students crack all the time, have breakdowns at an early age, and they need to step back and realize that there is more to life,” Severance said. “While grades are important, it’s not the most important thing. It would be a detriment to our students, and we’d be doing them more harm than good.”

The real-world examples of such have already begun to reveal themselves in schools like West Windsor-Plainsboro North and South.

According to “The Knightly News,” the WW-P school district’s newspaper, Catherine Foley, a parent of one of the students who attends a school in the district, said, “I have been concerned about the climate of hyper-competitiveness in the district, and many parents are concerned that because so many students are doing Option II, their children will fall behind if they do not do the same.”

A student’s overall physical and mental well-being must be weighed above the benefits that taking another class might provide.

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