Opinion: Do Nebraska Schools Prioritize Physical Education More Than the Arts?


Alex Ingvoldstad

Physical education is often prioritized over the arts in schools, but should it be?

For the last several weeks, students at WHS have been creating their schedules for the 2023-2024 school year. For some, the bare minimum number of courses they can take to graduate is the only thing on their minds. For others, graduating with a commended diploma is a priority. For both types of students, three semesters of physical education classes and one semester of Healthy Living are required to graduate. However, for a regular diploma, no fine arts classes are required to be taken. For a diploma with commendation, only one.

A 2020 journal entry published in the Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts states that long-term participation in the fine arts (including dance, music, visual art and drama) may assist in emotional and behavioral development, as well as improving academics in adolescence (Alegrado et. al. 415). This fact has been studied for years. Continued support for fine arts programs in schools, particularly in the developmental stages of a child’s life has proven to yield benefits extending far beyond the arts programs themselves. 

This study begs the question, why is PE prioritized more in the education system than fine arts programs? The Nebraska Administrative Code requires operating secondary schools to offer 20 units, or two years’ worth, of physical education programs. Although I was unable to find any Nebraska laws indicating how many semesters are required for graduation, Omaha Public Schools faces a similar dilemma, needing 4 credits of PE by the end of senior year, with no minimum requirement for arts classes.

Lastly, although PE classes do teach lifelong tools that can be important to maintaining a healthy level of physical activity, my belief is that the skills arts classes teach really have the ability to change lives. In my personal experience, before joining Westside’s art program, I thought that developing my artistic ability was truly a lost cause. However, after just two years of visual art classes at WHS, I find myself creating in my free time and even considering a future where art is involved in some capacity. I, however, do not personally find myself feeling this way about skills learned in PE classes.

When all is said and done, it seems as though public schools across the metro area have a system in place that does not push students to find something creative that they are passionate about. Yet, sports and physical activity that only a select few enjoy partaking in are absolutely required to graduate. I find this to be disheartening, as it does not encourage creativity in all students, but it does push old-fashioned PE classes onto the entire student body.

If real change is made to make the arts in Nebraska schools more of a priority, as opposed to physical education, I think that a wave of creativity will be found in the future generations of the state. We can start making this change as a Westside community by altering graduation requirements and funding art programs state-wide.