Taking a closer look at ISPE

February 11, 2009 — by Kevin Mu and Anna Shen

Sophomore Kaitlyn Baab maneuvers her sailboat through the turbulent waters of the San Francisco Bay as the wind whips her sun-bleached hair into her face. This is where the avid sailor spends 10 to 16 hours a week practicing for her regattas, or sailing competitions. Regattas bring Baab to every corner of the country, leaving her less time to focus on schoolwork. For Baab, Independent Study Physical Education (ISPE) is a convenient option, allowing her more time to pursue sailing.

The district requires ISPE athletes to complete 170 hours of physical activity per semester (or 10 hours per week) in order to receive five credits and continue the program. Although the number of hours may seem daunting, it allows those who love their sport and rigorously practice and compete to focus more on their passion.

“The ISPE program has helped me increase my ability as a sailor,” said Baab. “[Because of ISPE], I am able to put a lot of time into sailing even [when] I [have] a lot of school work.”

Twenty-six students enrolled in ISPE in first semester; 21 students enrolled in second semester. Baab feels ISPE has benefited her greatly. Without it, Baab would forced to fulfill her PE Credits by enrolling in PE classes or a school sport, thus making it next to impossible to finish all her schoolwork before the weekends, when she travels to the St. Francis Yacht Club in San Francisco to sail.

But despite the advantages of the ISPE program, Baab feels there are drawbacks to missing out on PE classes and playing school sports.

“Through school sport teams, you get to meet new people at your school that you may not regularly talk to,” said Baab, who has made friends from all over the U.S. through her regattas. “School sports make students feel more connected to the school.”

Baab finds it hardest to fill hours when she has a week off and easiest to fill hours when there are upcoming competitions. She tries to make up for the slow weeks by working out at the gym.

“The hours are easily filled,” said Baab. “The only time I feel it is hard to complete the required hours is when I get a week off of sailing, because I still need a minimum of ten hours a week.”

Most athletes in ISPE have a satisfying experience with the program, and for many it simply becomes another part of their daily routine.

“I think ISPE is great,” Baab said. “I would say that if you are already [10 or more hours] on a sport, then it is definitely worth taking ISPE.”
ISPE might be smooth sailing for Baab, but for others it is a challenge just to qualify for the program.

Freshman Ivan Lee, who practices Tae Kwon Do at a state level, hoped to enroll in ISPE this year in order to have a free first period, but because of an increasingly busy schedule, Lee is only able to practice around six hours a week, instead of the required 10.

Lee, however, still feels that he should have qualified for the program.

“I think I should have gotten into ISPE, considering the fact that I’ve won many competitions and practice very hard,” said Lee.
According to assistant principal Brian Safine, each case is “reviewed on a case by case basis because the notion of state level applies differently to different sports.”

But Lee is just one of many students at Saratoga who feel that the ISPE program is too strict in its rules and regulations for student athletes.
“More students should be permitted to participate in ISPE,” said Lee. “The criteria in which students are judged for should be a little less harsh.”

An increasing trend is for students to apply for ISPE hoping they can get credits for a sport they play on the side, no matter what their level. But Safine said ISPE is a program for students competing at the state or national level who are too busy to attend normal PE classes of the school.

“The notion of independent study PE comes from the belief that if students are going to extreme lengths to participate in high-level in a sport outside of school that they can be excused from our program,” Safine said. “If a student has such a burden of time and travel that they can’t possibly accommodate regular PE in their schedule, they could be approved for ISPE.”

Whether students believe the ISPE standards may be set too high or too low, one thing is certain: Being a part of the ISPE program though tough to do, is a major benefit for those who qualify.

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