ST. PETERSBURG, Florida – Schools are working to find out how students can safely return to the classroom in person, and many schools think outside the box to actually just sit “outside”.
Beth Forys, professor of environmental science and biology at Eckerd College, has been teaching outdoors for more than a decade.
“When I started we didn’t have many buildings to myself, so I started teaching my labs outside,” said Forys.
She says her students were more busy outdoors, so she’s been doing it ever since.
Given 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 interviewed the faculty and about 85 percent of them said they wanted to teach outside,” said Noëlle Boucquey, assistant professor.
The school has identified more than 50 outdoor areas on campus that can be used as outdoor classrooms.
“We used computer software to examine areas with sufficient shade, and then we measured how many students could stay 6 feet or 12 feet apart,” said Forys.
Instead of classrooms, there will be class patios, class tents, class shelters and even class shadows.
According to Forys, students must continue to wear masks outdoors unless they can spread 12 feet apart. Not all classes, but a large number of them are held outside.
“Virus transmission loads are much lower outside. The likelihood that you will get sick if you are cautiously social outside is much less than inside. I think this has many attractive features,” said Forys.
The CDC supports this and recommends schools to use outside areas so that students can spread out better.
Other schools in Tampa Bay, including the University of Tampa and some schools in Hillsborough County, say they’ll have some outdoor classrooms this fall.
“This is something you could repeat at other colleges or even K-12 schools. It really should be something that will be considered during this pandemic,” said Forys.