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OPINION: Physical Education

Anne Sehon ‘25

Jan 19, 2024

Mercersburg Academy’s Curriculum and Requirements webpage states, “Mercersburg’s Physical Education program is designed to meet the minimal standards of at least one hour of vigorous activity four days per week.” For those participating in non-athletic PGAs, this is too often not true. According to Mercersburg, its students have to “pass Physical Education each term through engagement in the PGA program and successfully complete all human development and health programs as required by the school.” But do all PGAs really meet the standard of one hour of vigorous physical activity four days per week? Under the Pennsylvania Code of Law, Title 22, Chapter 4, § 4.23(c)(8), Mercersburg Academy seems to be in violation of the Commonwealth’s high school physical education requirements.  

If the webpage that outlines the Academy’s curriculum to the public eye is accurate, PGAs are supposed to be, if not a place for enough physical activity to meet the law’s education requirements, at least an outlet for physical activity. However, it seems clear that non-athletic PGAs are not in the gym four days a week, as the Academy’s website would lead one to believe. The arguments that typically arise are ones of “lifting equipment is physical” and “the dancing in the musical is enough,” but, to me, the “physical fitness” outlined in Pennsylvania state law can not be met simply by dancing in an ensemble and lifting stage equipment, and it certainly can’t be met by doing neither. 

Mercersburg needs a physical education class for those who do not participate in athletic PGAs like team sports, dance, gym internships, MOE programs, and strength and conditioning. Building strong habits related to physical activity and wellness are vital for our lives beyond high school, and many, many studies show that working out is beneficial to mental health and academic success, as well. I’m concerned for my peers who can’t complete a once-a-term walk to the barn and back without complaint, and I’m concerned about the facade my school puts up to potentially hide that. 

If a student does not participate in an athletic PGA at least one term per year, it seems they ought to participate in a term course that meets state physical education requirements – it could be a dance course, something related to being in the gym, or a general intramural physical education course, as many public schools have; it should be something more than what is available at the moment. Because of the amount of time PGAs take up, it’s understandable why non-athletic PGAs can not take the time out of their schedules to go to the gym as a group, which is why course offerings could be a strong alternative. If not solely for the sake of physical wellness, if Mercersburg seeks to be the civically-minded institution that it hopes to be, it can begin with adherence to educational law in entirety.

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