NewsPinellas County


Eckerd College moving classes outdoors to help protect against the spread of COVID-19

Posted at 2:45 PM, Jul 29, 2020

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Schools are working to figure out how students can safely return to the classroom in-person, and it has many schools thinking outside of the box to actually just sit “outside.”

For more than a decade, Eckerd College environmental science and biology professor Beth Forys has been teaching outdoors.

"When I first started, we didn’t have a lot of buildings for me so I started by teaching my labs outside," said Forys.

She says her students were more engaged outdoors so she's been doing it ever since.

Now, with the COVID-19 pandemic and the need for social distancing, Eckerd College asked other teachers if they would be interested in the open-air concept.

"We surveyed faculty and about 85 percent of them said they wanted to teach outside," said Noëlle Boucquey, assistant professor.

So the school has identified more than 50 outdoor areas on campus that can be used as outdoor classrooms.

"We used computer software to look at areas that had adequate shade and then we measured how many students could fit either stay 6 feet apart or 12 feet apart," said Forys.

Instead of just classrooms, there will be class patios, class tents, class shelters and even class shade trees.

Forys says students will still need to wear masks outdoors unless they can spread out 12 feet apart. Not all classes, but a good portion of them will be held outside.

"Viral transmission loads are much lower outside. The chance of you getting sick if you carefully social distance outside is much less than inside. So I think this has a lot of attractive qualities," said Forys.

The CDC is backing it up recommending that schools utilize outdoor spaces so students can better spread out.

Other schools across the Tampa Bay area including the University of Tampa and some Hillsborough County schools say they will have some outdoor classrooms this fall.

"This is something that they could be repeated at other colleges or even K-12 schools. It really should be something being considered during this pandemic," said Forys.