Bearing Polar Bear

Some Stuyvesant sophomores were programmed for Polar Bear—a physically demanding physical education elective that involves running outdoors in a variety of weather conditions—without ever ranking it during course selections.

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By Reya Miller

Stuyvesant’s physical education curriculum for freshmen and sophomores is standardized to include the typical rotations of basketball, volleyball, and pickleball units. It usually isn’t until junior and senior year that students are given the option to choose physical education electives such as Polar Bear. Taught by physical education teacher Anetta Luczak, Polar Bear is an elective in which students run outdoors throughout the year, rain or shine. The class typically appeals to those on the track or cross country teams, as well as habitual runners. While Polar Bear may be valuable to students looking for a more physically rigorous class, sophomores expecting to be placed in a standard physical education class were taken aback when they found that they had been assigned to it this fall.

At first, many sophomores didn’t know what to expect from the elective. “When I first saw my schedule, I think it said physical education,” sophomore Jaylyn Huang said. “But when I looked at the [physical education] schedules, I saw Polar Bear, and I really did not know what it was until when we first started the class.”

Other sophomores had a vague understanding of what the class involved but found it far more intense than they expected. Sophomore Elaine Chen initially didn’t think much of being placed in Polar Bear. “In the beginning, I wasn't too upset over getting Polar Bear because sometimes I would run for fun after school or whatnot, so [I thought] ‘Oh, it's just a build-up on that running, and I guess I can consider it conditioning.’ I [thought] that might be kind of fun. But my perception of Polar Bear has fully changed after actually experiencing it,” Chen said.

Many sophomores noted that the class can feel intense at times, especially for students who aren’t accustomed to running. “When we first started running, it was pretty bad because Ms. Luczak just went from a quarter of a mile for the first lesson and then our next class she gave us half a mile, and I felt she didn't really give us time to prep at all,” Huang said. However, students still adapting to distance running are given some accommodations. “Ms. Luczak said that you could speed walk when you’re tired,” Huang noted. 

Sophomores also feel that it is unfair that they were placed in the Polar Bear elective without ranking it during the course selection process. “The administration definitely should have […] made it clear that this is a program where you’d run half a mile [to] a mile,” sophomore Jareefah Alam noted.

Some students cited health conditions that complicated their ability to actively participate in the class. Alam, who has asthma, recounted, “Near the beginning, I was definitely worried about whether I could run. Thankfully, [...] [my asthma is mild], so it doesn’t cause me much trouble when it comes to physical exercise, but I was still worried.” 

While some may express concerns about the course curriculum, others like Alam believe it is an accessible way to delve into the world of running. “Ms. Luczak was definitely understanding. […] She told us from day one, ‘Oh, if you're tired, you can just be my little helper who can help me with the class. If you don’t want to run, then you don’t have to.’ I know a lot of people in these classes—including me—have asthma, and if so, it's kind of difficult to run. And [Luczak is] completely understanding of that, because our health comes first,” Alam said. Despite this, many sophomores feel that Polar Bear should only be given to students who request it. “A lot of students in the school can't really run, or they have [health] issues or problems. Maybe [they] just really don't want to run [and they] want to build their strength in some other category. So I feel like it should be something that stays as an elective. Like, it should be an option listed,” Alam said. 

Other than the arduous physical activity, another unique aspect of Polar Bear is that students don’t engage with each other the way they do when playing team sports in other physical education classes. Huang explained, “[One of] the negatives is that running is more of an individual kind of sport, whereas my friends are doing volleyball or floor hockey.” Students in Polar Bear learn to pace themselves individually, without experiencing the collaboration of team sports. Limited engagement with classmates can make it even more difficult to persevere in such a physically demanding class.

As the year progresses, Polar Bear students will continue to run in increasingly wintry weather conditions. Though not everyone was initially thrilled to be placed in the class, it seems that many students are still managing to adjust and reap its benefits. Another plus is that, unlike most students, these sophomores will learn more about what it’s like to be a polar bear than their AP Environmental Science class could ever teach them.