It’s time to level the playing field

Students taking off-campus PE should not have to jump through extra hurdles to earn their credit


Sarah Slaten

Dorothy Childs of the Texas Rowing Center rows on Lady Bird Lake on March 4. Rowing is one of several off-campus sports that is eligible for off-campus PE credit through AISD. Photo by Sarah Slaten.

Sarah Slaten, Mac Photojournalism

There are a lot of sports out there. A lot. Some of these sports, like football, basketball soccer and volleyball, are offered in high schools across the district. But some of them aren’t. And that’s where OCPE comes into play.

OCPE, or Off Campus Physical Education, is a course offered by AISD. It provides a way for athletes who don’t play sports offered by their schools to get their required physical education credit without taking a course during school. But even though they aren’t doing their PE inside school, these athletes are working just as hard. Level II athletes (ones that aren’t competing at an Olympic or national level) have to practice at least five hours a week, along with completing a lesson supplied by AISD every week.

The lessons, which include a page of reading and an additional page of questions, have absolutely nothing to do with the athlete’s chosen sport.

There are lots of sports that qualify for OCPE–dance, lacrosse, archery, rowing, climbing, swimming, yoga, gymnastics, martial arts, tennis and fencing–so long as the agency you are participating at is either private or commercially-approved. There’s such a wide variety of athletics, and yet they all do the same additional PE lessons. The lessons, which include a page of reading and an additional page of questions, have absolutely nothing to do with the athlete’s chosen sport. Most of the time, they’re just about something the high school athletes already learned in middle school PE, like drugs, eating right or taking care of injuries. These lessons usually take up around 10 minutes a day, often subtracting from precious practice time.

Last year, I took OCPE. Though I don’t regret it, I didn’t like how it was handled. I admit that it was a great opportunity, and I’m lucky AISD offers it, so I wouldn’t have to take a PE class in school on top of  exercising around 10 hours a week. But to me it seemed like a waste of time. Like a punishment for not choosing a sport to participate in at school. Even though it only took up to 15 minutes, that time was spent hurriedly scribbling down answers to repetitive questions from a reading about something we might never need to know, or that we had already covered in middle school. I would work with my friends on the lessons to make sure we would finish as quickly as possible. We would even work with each other on the tests to make sure none of us failed, since this was still a grade that would go on our GPA. All in all, we didn’t learn very much, and OCPE is the problem, not the lax enforcement of the policies, which is AISD’s claim.

Kristen Tibbetts
Freshman Mariana Torres DeLine releases an arrow at the National Archery in the Schools Program tournament at Lamar Middle School on Jan. 28. She qualified for the state meet at the event by scoring 266 out of a possible 300 points. While she is very competitive at archery, she does not use her involvement in the sport to earn off-campus PE credit. Photo by Kristen Tibbetts.

Recently, AISD performed a surprise check-in at my OCPE agency. Suffice it to say, we didn’t do too well. They made it clear to us that students were supposed to be doing much more than we did last year: correct spelling, complete sentences and answers in at least three or four sentences (We provided one-sentence answers most of last year). This unnecessary inspection, along with a couple of other reasons, makes me think the OCPE program and the treatment of off-campus high school athletes needs to be changed.

OCPE lessons feel like a waste of time to everyone who is forced to do them. We don’t want to do them, and they don’t teach us much. They are just random lessons that seem to be thrown  together at the last minute. Sure, maybe they think this stuff will help us later in life, but since we probably won’t remember the information in a couple of days, there’s no way we’ll remember it in years. So why do we have these lessons?

At McCallum, athletes in specialized sports classes don’t have to take lessons. They don’t have to take tests, or fill out a dietary chart (one of the most irksome requirements for OCPE). They just practice. So why do OCPE athletes have to do it? We’re doing exactly what they are–playing/practicing our chosen sport–yet for some reason we’re required to do more. The lessons don’t seem to be helpful, and they’re definitely not interesting: athletes either rush through them, or take as long as possible so you can avoid doing an especially hard workout. I would like these lessons to either be specialized to each sport or be eradicated completely.

OCPE athletes should be recognized by their schools, and should get just as many advantages as other athletes.

The McCallum swim team doesn’t practice at Mac. We don’t have a pool, so they are forced to practice at UT. We have a girls lacrosse team. They don’t practice at Mac either; they play on the same time with Anderson students. Though these teams were a lot smaller than most sports, and didn’t practice at McCallum, they were still treated as a McCallum team. I think OCPE athletes should get this same treatment. Everyone I know who takes OCPE works just as hard, and for just as long. OCPE athletes should be recognized by their schools, and should get just as many advantages as other athletes. I’m not asking for a shout-out in the pep rally (though I wouldn’t be averse to it). I’m just asking for teachers to treat us like the other athletes (give us slack when we might be tired in class). Maybe we could even get a page in the yearbook, like I know Austin High had last year. Or, maybe, you could just make us a team, like lacrosse and swimming.

OCPE is something we are lucky to have in AISD. I am thankful that I was able to participate in it, but, like most  things, it could be improved. For now, however, we’ll just have to toil away 10 minutes of our lives every week answering seemingly random and obscure questions.