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Beach classroom? Eckerd College created outdoor learning locations to protect from COVID-19

Despite the Florida heat, Eckerd College says its scenic campus provides plenty of shaded locations for learning.

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Not every college campus has beautiful beachfront views like St. Pete’s Eckerd College.

Located on the southern tip of Pinellas County, the college plans to take advantage of their outdoor areas and afternoon breezes as part of their plan to keep students and faculty safe from COVID-19.

“Outside, the chance of you getting the virus is just so much lower,” said Professor Beth Forys who has taught many of her environmental science classes outside for years.  “Our campus is beautiful and large with lots of shady areas.”

 When other faculty members expressed their interest, Forys says she used her geographic mapping skills to find outdoor options for nearly the entire campus.

Credit: Eckerd College
Eckerd College faculty members can reserve outdoor classroom locations instead of teaching inside.

“I saw how many people you could put in different locations and then I measured the amount of shade, and then a colleague and I went out and we measured how much Wi-Fi there was, is there a nice breeze and listed some of the amenities at the site.”

Eckerd College says it surveyed faculty and about 85% plan to take advantage of the program because they feel safer teaching out in the open air.

“We thought this really takes it almost down to something very very low,” said Forys of the COVID-19 risk.  “It’s also very nice outside and we thought we can buy those two things and make everyone feel less concerned.”

Forys says her students seem excited too.  “A lot of studies have shown students actually learn better and can focus better when they’re outside.”

Eckerd is already erecting large tents across campus to accommodate as many students as possible, and even allowing for more social distancing near the food hall.

And if the weather gets bad, classes can always move back on-line or even inside with masks and plenty of space between students.

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